Most Monday mornings with Mayor Ronnie start out with a cup of coffee and settling in to discuss the topics for his column. However, today was going to be a “wee bit o’ history” because kids at Athens Elementary were going to be able to “go” to Stonehaven, Scotland, courtesy of Zoom, and we were going to be a part of it.
It took a while to get the technical glitches smoothed over, and then it was a joy to watch kids of all colors learn about places that had buildings that were close to a thousand years old, and ask questions that garnered answers given in a delightful Scottish brogue. “Bonnie! Bonnie good question,” we heard the Scots say.
Most people in the Athens area are aware that a group of citizens from our city with representatives from government, higher education, the public school system, and the arts made a trip on their own dime to Scotland this past summer, with the purpose of cementing what the Scots refer to as “twinning.” That is the same as having a sister city, and the purpose is to foster exchange, goodwill, and cross-cultural relationships. The folks of Stonehaven matched the visiting Southerners when it came to hospitality, and housed the Alabamians in their homes, one of which was a literal castle.
The members of the Athens educational system could see the possibility of our kids and theirs participating in foreign exchange student opportunities. And one of the things that was particularly encouraging regarding the “Zoom exchange” was how the Scots were aware of our history and made it come alive to the AES students who were assembled in front of the screen. The students learned that Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Constitution had strong ties to Scotland, where he received his degree in medicine. Rush is often referred to as the father of modern psychiatry. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club and one of the early proponents of the establishment of national parks was born in Scotland, as was as John Paul Jones, the founder of the United States Navy.
The first person on the Zoom call was Ellen Wong, Consul General of the United States to Scotland. “Hi, y’all,” she said, and explained that she is from Missouri, and that is how she genuinely speaks. She thanked the teachers for making this possible and “welcomed” the students to Scotland.
The kids were treated to a video tour of Kinneff Old Church, where the crown jewels of Scotland, or as the Scots call them, “The Honours of Scotland,” were hidden from the invading Oliver Cromwell. They were snuck over the side of Dunnotar Castle and down to a servant woman who hid them under her skirt. Then Rev. Grainger and his wife hid them beneath the pulpit at Kinneff where they were forgotten for many years. They were eventually moved to Edinburgh Castle, where they remain on display today, and during World War II, were divided up and hidden in various parts of the castle in the event that the Nazis were successful in conquering the United Kingdom. It wasn’t until 1953, when Queen Elizabeth was crowned, that they were finally brought out of hiding and presented to her. We were told, “They are the oldest crown jewels on the planet.”
Then the kids were given a great honor and invitation, and that was to enter a drawing contest. As a gesture of goodwill and to “seal the twinning,” our Athens students have been asked by the equivalent of the mayor of Stonehaven to draw either Kinneff Old Church or Dunnottar Castle. The winners will receive a cash prize, but more importantly, the drawing will be displayed proudly on the walls of Kinneff Old Church for visitors from all over the world to see. The deadline was set, the kids were abuzz, and then it was time to roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner