By Mike LaBella
---- — Many of Marilyn Caradonna’s history students at Haverhill High School have been riding over the Basiliere Bridge most of their lives.
But until this year, few if any of them were aware the bridge’s name is an honor bestowed on Haverhill’s first casualty in the Vietnam War.
Caradonna’s new interactive eBook, “Vietnam: Here and Beyond,” has changed all that.
Using classroom iPads loaded with the eBook, students learned the bridge over the Merrimack River linking Haverhill to its Bradford section to the south was named for Ralph J. Basiliere.
Caradonna used photos, stories and information gleaned from years of teaching and research to create a resource on the Vietnam War for her American History class for juniors. The result is a lesson that no mass-produced history book can provide: Haverhill’s story of the Vietnam War.
The promise of technology as a tool for learning is being realized in Caradonna’s classes through the eBook she created with help from technical experts who staff Haverhill High’s iSchool learning center.
Students tap on a photo of Basiliere on their iPad screens to call up information about the young man, a U.S. Marine who was the city’s first Vietnam casualty. Students learn that he was born two days after Valentine’s Day in 1947 and was killed at the age of 19 on May 17, 1966, in the Quang Nam province of South Vietnam.
While students read about Basiliere and the other nine members of the military from Haverhill who died in the war, they can click on links to protest songs of that era, including “Fortunate Son,” released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969, and listen to the music through headphones.
Caradonna included the lyrics to that song, as well to “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire and “I’m-Feelin’-Like-I’m Fixin-To-Die-Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish so her students can better understand their meaning.
”We looked up the names of people from Haverhill and Bradford who died in the war and learned about the Basiliere Bridge, which was pretty interesting,” said senior Joey Markey, who was among the first students at Haverhill High to use Caradonna’s eBook last spring when juniors studied the Vietnam War. “I was drawn to the photographs and the one that stuck out, and which I wrote an essay on, is a young soldier who doesn’t seem like he wanted to be there.”
The image haunted Markey.
”If I was living back then, I could have been drafted,” he said. “I would definitely say there should be more eBooks like these.”
”My whole class loved it,” Markey said about the eBook. “Some days we worked in groups and discussed our feelings about the war, and a lot of times we discussed the pictures, as they were the most interesting things. A lot of kids liked the songs, too. We never knew the meaning until we worked through the eBook.”
For students unfamiliar with the terminology of the time, the eBook contains a list of vocabulary words.
Caradonna said the book, which was published just before spring break and days before the Patriots Day bombing at the Boston Marathon, fulfills two ambitions. The first is to use the photos and mementos shared by family members in a respectful and meaningful way. The second is to make a historical event relevant to students today.
”These young men who gave their lives were Hillies,” Caradonna said. “My students today, they are Hillies. There is that connection. They see that in many ways, they are the same.”
Over the past 18 months, the School Department spent about $1 million on technology updates at the high school, including whole-school wi-fi, Apple devices for teachers and students, whiteboards in every classroom, and training for educators to develop electronic teaching materials. They are provided in a sleek and modern space known as the iSchool.
Previously, Caradonna’s lessons on the Vietnam War included video footage, photographs and her own notes and memories of the war, which took place while she was in grade school, high school and college.
”With things like eBooks, you can design your own curriculum and you won’t need textbooks,” Caradonna said.
The interactive book shows photographs and other remembrances of those who died. The materials were provided by friends and family members. Caradonna collected the mementos in 2012, in reaction to a call from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to match faces to the names on the black granite war memorial in the nation’s capitol.
Among the items she collected are letters sent home by the servicemen, including Michael James Gambino, telling his family about a day spent at the beach playing in the surf. Gambino, 20, a private in the Army, was killed in action on Sept. 22, 1970, in the South Vietnamese city of Binh Dinh.
In Caradonna’s eBook, students can click on an image of a portion of the letter, enlarge it and read Gambino’s words.
”I definitely thought it was different, but in a positive way,” senior Allie Simmons said about her experiences with the eBook in her junior year. “It goes into depth, like a section called local heroes that talks about local people who died in the war, which we would not find in a textbook.”
Many of Caradonna’s students visited Washington, D.C., in their eighth-grade class trip, which included a visit to the Vietnam Memorial.
”I wanted to show them that it’s not just a wall with names,’’ Caradonna said. “It’s people who had a life and had a family.’’
Simmons said she and other students talked about how different a return visit to the Vietnam Memorial would be now.
”I’d have so much more knowledge about the war and it would mean so much more to me,” Simmons said.
Caradonna’s eBook includes a section of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, including “Burning Monk,” taken June 11, 1963, by Malcolm Brown.
When students tap on this and other images, questions pop up.
The beauty of an electronic book is that it can be updated if additional pieces of information come to light, such as missing photos of some of the local casualties, said Brian Nagel, one of the technical facilitators who staff the iSchool and provide training and support for teachers.
Caradonna said her eBook is one of the first to be introduced at Haverhill High. Other teachers are interested in creating their own, she said.
One photo in the eBook shows POW bracelets on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
“One lesson is to research a name and find out what happened to that person,” said Caradonna, who brings her own POW bracelet to class to show that she, too, wore the jewelry that many American high school and college students wore to call attention to American prisoners of war in Vietnam.