March 9, 2004 |

Phillips students write about Underground Railroad

Many hands make light work. The students at Phillips Elementary School experienced this saying firsthand as they worked on an African American History Essay Contest sponsored by National City Bank and the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh.

Phillips School students, teachers and guests who learned more about the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Morning Glory Inn on the South Side included: (front row, from left) Susan Smith, Phillip Bova Nikki Pitts, Erik Rauterkus, Jamie Tyree, Anna Tarka-DiNunzio; (second row, from left) Colleen Pilarski, Haley Adams, Bethan Daffern, Zachary Galuska, Erica Harding, Taylors, Stacy Kamumbu, Barbara Rudiak; (back row, from left) Renee Coyner; Lee Phillips, Beverly Haines, David Eschelman, Jennifer Reubi.

Students were asked to answer the following question: Select a building in your community, or in the Greater Pittsburgh area, that has had an influence on African Americans. What is special about the building – its history, the person or persons who built or designed it, and what does it mean to the neighborhood? Is there a need to preserve it or renovate it as a landmark? Why is this building important to you?

The students received community and school support. Louise Sturgess, executive director of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, brought the contest to the attention of Dr. Barbara Rudiak, principal of Phillips Elementary School. Ms. Sturgess knew that some of the students were familiar with the Morning Glory Inn and its possible connections to the Underground Railroad.

She hoped that they would be interested in writing about it. Upon learning about the contest, the Phillips teachers encouraged their students to participate. But first, they required the students to write an essay explaining why they wanted to enter the contest. The Greater Pittsburgh area winners will be receiving a $500, $250 or $100 savings account at National City Bank.

Twenty-four students in grades 3, 4, and 5 were selected to participate. In addition, Ms Tarka-DeNunzio asked that her second grade students be involved. With Ms. Sturgess, they visited the Morning Glory Inn and spent time with David Eschelman, the owner, who showed the students the inn, especially the basement tunnel and room believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad. The adults provided a lot of information about the history of both the building and the Underground Railroad.

The students wrote and revised their essays based on their teachers' suggestions. The teachers then evaluated their writings using criteria provided by the contest organizers. They chose ten winners – five in the 6 – 9 age category and five in the 10 – 13 age category. In addition to the essays being sent to National City for the contest, the students received $50 savings bonds from UPMC South Side. All students who completed an essay on time received a certificate of achievement from the school and they will also receive a certificate from National City and the Young Preservationist Association of Pittsburgh.

On Friday, Feb. 27, Beverly Haines, vice president of patient care at UPMC South Side, presented the following students with the savings bonds: Stacy Kamumbu, Jamie Tyree, Bethany Daffern, Haley Adams, Zachary Galuska, Erica Harding, Phillip Bova, Sadik Roberts, Erik Rauterkus, Nikki Pitts and Taylor James. The students were also acknowledged by Dr. Rudiak, Louise Sturgess, Lee Phillips, community relations coordinator at UPMC South Side, David Eschelman and Renee Coyner, branch manager at National City, South Side office.

In addition, the teachers, Colleen Pilarski, Jennifer Reubi, Susan Smith, Stacy Riggle, and Anna Tarka-DiNunzio were commended for the commitment they made to the contest. They each received a certificate and $50 towards school supplies.

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