DENVER — Colorado’s past is filled with many colorful cultures, each with their own incredible stories.
Sharing those stories with the state’s school children is a passion for Steve Longsdorf, a retired elementary school teacher who now spends much of her free time volunteering as a tour guide for school groups at History Colorado Center.
Kids taking part in HCC tours are not led around and lectured to. Much of the tour is hands on, which allows the students to connect with the state’s past in ways they may not be able to do in the classroom.
“One of their jobs might be to run the cash register or accept the eggs as trade,” Longsdorf said while showing Denver7 anchor Shannon Ogden the general store mock-up that is part of HCC’s exhibit on the former town of Keota in northeastern Colorado. “I think, back in 1921, an egg was worth 2 cents or something like that, and so they do a little bit of math.”
Longsdorf's retirement from teaching came about the same time as the new History Colorado Center opened in 2012. She had already been volunteering with the organization for a few years at that point and was intrigued by plans for the new approach for the state’s history with school groups that the new exhibit space was allowing.
While the elaborate small-town exhibit space gives Longsdorf the tools she needs for the lessons she shares on her tours, it’s her own background in education that allows her to connect to the students and bring those lessons alive.
“I try to use big words and encourage them to just be a part of wherever we are, to bring themselves into the history that we talked about,” she said before describing what her favorite part of the tour lesson is. “Watching the kids eyes light up when they make a connection between something that I might have told them or something they did in the exhibit — and they get it.”
Longsdorf's efforts are not unnoticed. Teachers who bring their students to HCC often rave about her tours when they are over.
“She's an exceptional facilitator for our students. Everybody who's been on one of her programs absolutely loves it,” said Josie Chang-Ord, the HCC’s school programs manager. “She's just got a really gentle, nice manner with the kids and she loves Colorado history.”
While Longsdorf is far from the only volunteer at History Colorado, she is one of the most valuable and one of the most consistent, showing up week after week.
“She just really makes a lot of this easy for me in my position to know that she's here,” Chang-Ord said. “I don't have to check in on how things are going because I just know that when Steve's teaching, I don't have to worry about it. She's got it.”
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at History Colorado, and not all of them involve giving tours like Longsdorf. While there are roles that need to be filled helping visitors to the center, some volunteers are needed to assist with research. Volunteers are welcome whether they help out once or twice a year or once or twice a week.
As for Longsdorf, she likes working with kids and plans to continue giving tours and sharing lessons with school groups visiting HCC as long as she can.
“As long as my knees hold out and I can still hear, I will be here,” she said. “It's just really such a natural for me.”
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