Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Jennifer Crutchfield teaches a group of children at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

About 180 students have worked with sundials, rotary phones, Morse Code and more through a hands-on social studies program at six Chattanooga Youth and Family Development centers this summer.

The Chattanooga Landmarks program localizes national social studies standards by connecting them to Chattanooga landmarks and historic events with hands-on learning.

The program, created and run by historian and author Jennifer Crutchfield, engages children ages 6-12 at six YFD centers in Chattanooga neighborhoods including Avondale, Brainerd and Westside.

Crutchfield wrote a book on Chattanooga history called "Chattanooga Landmarks," from which the program gets its name, and partnered with local nonprofit Mark Making to create and fund it. She said people, places and events in Chattanooga enable national lessons to be taught through the local lens.

"There is no reason that a child should learn about the Trail of Tears, and be in Chattanooga, and not also gain an understanding of the role that our city played in that or how that connects to our city," Crutchfield said. "It's just all these national things, and kids would do better on their tests about them if they connected them to their city, because that makes the learning more fun. It's like Andy Griffith, when you put more jam on the bread and the kids learn."

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Chattanooga organization brings hands-on local history lessons to community centers

Sarah Green, 16, attends Brainerd High School and is interning for Crutchfield this summer. She said she attended camps at the Avondale Center when she was younger and started helping out there as she got older, which led to her helping with Crutchfield's program this summer.

"I usually help her pass stuff out, take the pictures, when she gets to the activities I go around and help her out with those," Green said. "I'm basically just the helper and while she's teaching them the lesson, I'm basically learning too."

Crystal Clay is in her third year as an academic coach at the Westside Center where she plans educational programs year-round. Westside was closed for 14 months until all 18 YFD centers reopened in June, and Clay said the center doesn't have a kids camp this summer but has a first-come, first-served drop-in camp that ranges in daily attendance from eight to 20 kids.

She said kids that come to the center love the Chattanooga Landmarks sessions because of Crutchfield's energy and engagement of students.

Youth and Family Development centers with Chattanooga Landmarks sessions




John A. Patten


Westside (Sheila Jennings)

Source: Jennifer Crutchfield

"She has taught them something different that they probably would not have done or attempted to do, and they enjoy it and it's her energy and she's excited to teach them, and that excitement that she gives off, they pick up on it so they're excited," Clay said. "Like when she gets here they're already at the door, waiting for her to come into the building. The young men go out and get her stuff and bring it in, and they're ready for her."

About 600-700 students are registered across the centers for various camps and educational programs this summer, said the city's interim administrator of youth and family development, Jason McKinney.

McKinney said it was challenging to prepare and staff the centers for the summer, the busiest time of year for the centers, but that staff and community partners stepped up to keep students engaged.

"Doing things like this really helps the kids to connect what they learned in school to what's around them in the city of Chattanooga, and that's important. It's important to understand that the history they're learning about happened here at Chattanooga and that they know about their town," McKinney said "One of our goals is to get the kids more engaged in the city, and more engaged in Chattanooga and love Chattanooga, so with all of those pieces is what Jennifer's program provides for our kids."

To finish out the summer, Crutchfield is finalizing plans for the last week of July to take students on field trips to locations in the city both new and old, including Moccasin Bend, Tennessee Aquarium and the Tennessee River.

"I have the Chattanooga Ducks picking up kids from College Hill Courts in the Westside to take them on a special trip on the river, because it makes me nuts that they don't realize that the river is in their neighborhood, and it is."

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at or 423-757-6592.