By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — After reading a story in Boston Magazine last year describing Lawrence as the “City of the Dammed,” Jessica Dick said she wanted to show another side of the city in which she grew up.
Dick, 21, who will graduate with honors from UMass Boston in May, taught a five-week seminar to freshmen about Lawrence as part of a course on cities.
She researched the history of the city, including its labor movements, industrial mills, politics, education, poverty and crime. Her sources included stories published in The Eagle-Tribune, The New York Times and Boston newspapers. She also read history books and Bruce Watson’s book “Bread and Roses: Migrants, and the Struggle for the American Dream.”
“My goal was to change people’s perspective of the city. I grew up here and I know what the true story is,” she said.
“Most of the students didn’t know about Lawrence, and at the beginning they were quiet. As they learned about it, they became curious and wanted to know more,” she said.
Dick, who graduated from Central Catholic High School 2009, wants to be a high school English teacher. For the course she created her own “textbook” and had a class syllabus which included sections on the history of Lawrence as a planned city, the 1860 Pemberton Mill collapse in which 145 textile workers died; the 1995 Malden Mills fire which put 3,000 people out of work, and community leaders.
As a guest speaker she brought in Ethan Snow, research assistant to the Bread and Roses Centennial Committee to talk about the historic 1912 textile workers strike.
The class was made up of 20 students between the ages of 18 to 30. Dick said she also learned from the students who come from Lynn and Brockton, both of which are old mill cities.
She began preparing for the course last fall and throughout the semester met with Dick Cluster, associate director of the Honors Program at UMass Boston, to discuss her progress.
Students in the Honors Program are required to teach a freshman seminar on the subject of their choice.
“I thought that was a terrific idea,” Cluster said of teaching about Lawrence. “There are many cities people don’t know much about and she had a chance to teach people about the city’s labor history and current events.” Dick also has family connections to the mills as her grandfather, Terrence Rourke of Lawrence, worked in Malden Mills.
Dick, who now lives in Haverhill, will graduate with a degree in English on May 31.
“It was a huge learning process for all of us,” she said. “It was so worth it because it gave me the opportunity to teach about something I love.”
Dick said she was inspired to become a teacher by her mother, Cheryl, who went back to college to get her master’s degree after raising three children along with her husband, Richard.
“Education is important to her and I saw the challenges she went through in getting her degree while raising three kids and how successful she is now,” Dick said of her mother.
Dick is a 2009 graduate of Central Catholic High and received a degree in liberal arts from Northern Essex Community College in 2011. Her goal is to teach at her alma mater, Central Catholic.
“I want to go back and make a difference in the community, which was my goal in teaching this class about Lawrence,” she said.