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All over the map: place name contest encourages students to explore the history of the community

Attention teachers and children in all 39 counties: The Washington Office of the Secretary of State has launched a new place name contest. Registrations must be made before Sunday, May 15.

The contest is called “What’s in a place name“It’s underway now and is open to K-12 students and traditional or home school classrooms anywhere in Evergreen State.

It’s an initiative started by a part of the secretary of state’s office called Washington’s Legacy, which is a small team that collects oral histories, then mounts exhibits and publishes books, such as recent biographies of former Governor and Senator Dan Evans and former US Representative Julia Butler Hansen. Legacy Washington also runs other story-related initiatives, all under the direction of a former Aberdeen-area editor named John Hughes.

“What’s In a Place Name” is new this year, and the 2022 edition is being treated as something of a pilot project. Contest organizer Aaron Peplowski, senior researcher at Legacy Washington, says the hope is that it will become an annual endeavor.

Peplowski told KIRO Newsradio that the goal of the contest is “to inspire students to look at their neighborhoods and the proper names that are on a street, school, library, park or something, and then say, ‘Okay, who is this person? Why does this person have a named object in this neighborhood, and does this name reflect the values ​​of our community? »

As Peplowski describes it, there is an element of critical analysis in “What’s In a Place Name?” – they are not just looking for a book report on a forgotten person, they want to inspire a deeper level of thought and weigh what can often be quite complex factors. Peplowski acknowledges that this research and analysis might even lead some participants to consider new efforts to possibly change a current place name.

Peplowski says that if students are encouraged to research why something is named after a particular person, they’ll likely learn a lot more about their community along the way — not just the geography of a street, of a particular school or park.

“Sometimes it’s named after people who have very little to do with the history of the North West, or named after people who may have had an intolerant past,” Peplowski said. “And we need to consider whether or not these are striving to uphold the values ​​of our community.”

Mount Rainier is an example of the first case, Peplowski says. The namesake Peter Rainier has never set foot near the Pacific Northwest, and the Puyallup tribe are in the early stages of what will likely be a years-long effort to restore a native name to the mountain.

In the second case, Peplowski cited his own foster mother, formerly known as Woodrow Wilson High School in Tacoma. President Wilson, Peplowski says, has a “less-than-stellar race relations record,” which inspired the community to change the high school’s name last year to honor the community activist and city council member. Dolores Silas — who was the first black woman elected to the Tacoma City Council.

The entries in the “What’s in a place name?” » contest can be submitted in a wide range of formats, including written reports, videos, audio recordings, walking maps, scripts for a play or other forms of expression. Legacy Washington is open to just about any type of end product that effectively shares research and results.

Peplowski says they’re also open to whole classes researching a place name and working together to submit a single entry as a class project.

The deadline approaches on Sunday, May 15. Legacy Washington has published several useful information Resources online – including a fascinating example of an entrance to Israel Road in Olympia. A panel of judges will select five winners who will receive $100 grants for their classrooms.

The winning works will also be featured in a virtual exhibit and in Washington Secretary of State publications — and likely right here in a future episode of All Over The Map.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.