IDA, Mich. — On a late spring day, Carl's Hide-a-Way was not just a neighborhood Mexican restaurant, and an Ida Street house with a "Congratulations Connor!" banner on the porch was not just a home with something to celebrate.
Instead, Carl's, founded in 1963, provided an example of a family-owned business passed down through generations, and the house was evidence of the doctor's office and pharmacy that once occupied its left half.
Those two buildings were among the historic sites highlighted that morning last week on a 90-minute walking tour led by a group of Ida Middle School eighth graders and their teacher, Jeremy Potter, for second graders at Ida Elementary School.
The middle school students are members of the Backyard History Club, an elective class that studies the history of this town of about 4,900. Mr. Potter, a 1992 graduate of Ida Elementary, said the idea for the club grew out of his lifelong interest in the community. To recruit his first group of students more than a decade ago, he hung posters around the middle school, urging aspiring historians to bring their lunches to Room 11 to learn more about the club.
That inaugural session, which attracted 15 students, was held Sept. 11, 2001. "I couldn't tell you a thing I said in that first meeting. Our kids didn't even know what was going on yet," Mr. Potter said, describing the meeting that day as "surreal."
Since that day, the club has gained popularity at the middle school. It transformed from a club into a class in 2004, and Mr. Potter said he receives an average of 50 applications for the 24 spaces in the class each year. The two dozen accepted students — selected by the previous year's members — research and archive Ida history, produce the middle-school yearbook to raise money for their class, and teach second graders about the community.
Emily Alexander, 14, said the course has opened her eyes to the story of Ida and its people. She attributes the success of the class to Mr. Potter's passion for the subject.
Karen Labert, a second grade teacher chaperoning the 45 students on Tuesday's tour, praised the class and its partnership with her class. The Michigan Department of Education's Grade Level Content Expectations stipulate that second grade classes should cover community history.
Classes and tours at the elementary school led by the history class began two years ago and have become an integral part of Ida's second grade curriculum.
"The kids get really excited when eighth graders come in," Ms. Labert said. "It's just so different when you have kids teaching kids."
That excitement was evident as the younger students walked around Ida, waving their hands to answer questions about historic churches and shops and teetering on their toes to get a better view of the re-enactments performed by costumed eighth graders.
A stop in the middle of the tour, at a brick building one block from Carl's, especially intrigued the second graders. The building is now home to a dentist's office and apartments, but Ida Bank once occupied the ground floor, and the high school basketball team practiced on the second floor.
Alec Sobol, 8, was amazed that students had played ball in such a cramped space.
"It would have been bad times for me," Alec said. "I'm pretty good at basketball, and I might have thrown the ball out a window and hurt someone."
Contact Jessica Shor at: email@example.com or 419-724-6516.