WALL TOWNSHIP — Educational tours will continue at the Historic Village at Allaire this year despite the coronavirus pandemic, as tours can now be safely taken virtually through the organization’s new program.
The Historic Village at Allaire is widely known for its interactive historical tours, featuring volunteers dressed in 19th century clothing, speaking to students and interested residents about what life was like in Wall Township nearly 200 years ago. Since the pandemic began, the village has been forced to alter or outright cancel many of its events and tours that have educated locals for decades.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected our organization and has forced us to make many changes to our daily operations, staffing and interactions with our visitors. Prior to the pandemic, we pride ourselves on being very interactive and hands-on with our educational programming and interpretation, but obviously due to the pandemic, we had to restructure our whole methodology of connecting with the public,” Gina Palmisano, manager of volunteers and educational programming at Allaire Village, told The Coast Star.
In a typical year, Ms. Palmisano said, the village will host over 9,000 students annually for its tours. To keep that tradition of education alive, the tours will now be virtual bringing the 19th century ironworks up to speed with the 21st century.
“Many of our programs and events had to either be canceled or severely downsized in order to ensure safety for all participants. Sadly, this included the canceling of all of our in-person school tours that hosted over 9,000 students annually. We have really had to become more creative in how we went about upholding our mission in the new normal. One of the ways we have done this is by converting our school tour program to a brand new Virtual School Tour Program,” she said.
The new virtual tours combine the best of what the park has to offer, and includes videos of period demonstrations and trades, artifacts and Q & A’s with Interpreters. The tours are geared towards upper elementary school children and adheres to New Jersey Student Learning Standards but are adaptable to higher education as well.
Tours come in two options, one for 30 minutes and the other for 60.
The 30-minute virtual tour is called “Operations of the Howell Iron Works” and includes an introduction to the village, iron-making process, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop and manager’s house.
The 60-minute virtual tour is called “Life in the Howell Iron Works,” and includes an introduction to the village, iron-making process, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, manager’s house, foreman’s cottage, chapel and general store.
Most of the tour has been pre-recorded, Ms. Palmisano said, but will be facilitated through an interpreter via video-conferencing services.
“Filming the videos for the tour was a lot of fun because it allowed us to really highlight some of the unique aspects of the village,” she said. “Volunteers were very excited to participate in creating this program and share their knowledge of the village to a wider audience.”
Ms. Palmisano believes this is a unique opportunity for students to learn about rapidly changing 19th century life right here in their backyards, all from the comfort of their homes.
“This is a great learning opportunity for students because it allows them to explore their local history in a way that they have never been able to before. This program is designed specifically for students to help them learn about life in the 19th century by making connections to their own lives,” she said. “The virtual tour program provides students with access to a lesser-known, but equally important, time period in American history that greatly impacted the world they know of today. Allaire’s connection to the Industrial Revolution, along with its ability to bring history to life, makes it an ideal place for students to learn and explore.”
All of this would not have been possible without the hard work, determination and dedication of the Historic Village at Allaire’s volunteer staff, who have had to quickly adapt to the “new normal” of the pandemic this past summer, she said.
“Throughout the beginning of the pandemic, when we made the difficult decision of temporarily closing to the public, we used the time to redesign our interpretation plan to make it compliant with the CDC and Governor’s Office. Part of this plan included creating roped-off outdoor interpretive stations that guaranteed distance between our volunteers and visitors. It also consisted of new strict visitor capacities for each building, with volunteers only letting in one family unit in at a time,” Ms. Palmisano said.
“Despite all these changes, the volunteers have been incredibly supportive of the village and have adapted well. The staff and volunteers have found ways to still incorporate fun and engaging elements to our daily operations and educational programs. The Education Department at Allaire has also adapted by converting much of our usual programming into virtual experiences such as the Virtual School Tour Program. Volunteers have provided us with educational virtual content, integrated new visual elements to their interpretations and have developed more musical components that captivate visitors and teach them about their local history. Their passion for the village is what keeps the organization going and we are so grateful for their support and contributions.”
For more information, visit allairevillage.org.
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