Students learn by living the life of the Colonists


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  • Blacksmiths Saffron Bessler, Kinya Kajogo and Jared Begraft Photos by Laurie Gordon




  • The Blacksmith's representation of the fire that Colonial folk used




  • The centerpiece in the cafeteria represented Colonial times




By Laurie Gordon

—The cafeteria at the Stillwater Township Elementary School went back in time last Thursday as children in the fifth grade dressed and acted in roles from the Colonial Period.

Students were to stay in character and act out their family's trade, dressed as and acting like the colonists they were portraying. They spoke in British accents and told parents and visitors their colonial names and about their colonial occupations.

The “Berkeley Family” were from Georgia and their trade was baking. Sierra Rewoldt (aka “Mercy”) explained, “We use red jelly in our homemade cookies and we also have homemade carrot bread.”

The Conway Family were from New Hampshire and were blacksmiths. Saffron Bessler (aka “Charlotte”) explained, “We use our tools and the fire to make useful things.”

There were other stations with children showing off their trades from all of the original 13 colonies.

The Colonial Fair concept got its start across the county, in Sparta, in 2008 when Jessica Steffens was teaching fifth grade there. Now the sixth grade Ancient Civilizations and fifth grade American History teacher at Stillwater Township Elementary School, the Colonial Fair concept came with Steffens and has evolved.

“A few of the history teachers had done something like this but on a much smaller scale,” Steffens said, “I decided to make it something in which the parents could come and be a part of, and the students could really show off their knowledge of Colonial Period.”

The fifth graders fully embraced the concept, staying in their characters for the entire morning.

“Students first learn about colonization and the 'push/pull' relationship that early colonists had with coming into this 'new world,'” Steffens said. “We discuss a lot of the hardships people faced and much of them come over by choice. A choice to have a better life. Be it for religious reasons or the idea of owning their own plot of land to call theirs and enjoy the fruits of hard work. We discuss how many people still view his country today.”

She added, “Each student constructs their own group trifold/ and they make their own props and compile research on a family trade, their designated colony and family roles.”

Playing and staying in their role brings the experience to a different level.

“They are viewing it through their colonists' eyes. Each student has researched specific surnames that have been traced back to colonial America,” Steffens said. “Students then research and tell a story through journal writing about their life as a colonist. Some of these stories are light hearted and fun. They talk about the care free afternoon dips in the river for fun after their chores, to playing in the hay loft. Other students look to their journal writing as a way to tell of the more serious tones of the colonial period. One student in particular writes about walking through the woods and rests by a tree,when suddenly started by a slave running away. It is here where the student talks about helping the man instead of turning him in to his owner. The term abolitionist is taught, and it is here I know that this student has though long and hard about what his role would be had he been given the opportunity to have lived during this period. Such sadness, yet so empowering to kids take such a stance on some of these otherwise difficult to comprehend issues that faced this country only a few hundred years ago.”

Said Matt Robinson, Superintendent of The Stillwater School District, “The Colonial Fair has rapidly become a cherished fifth grade tradition here at Stillwater Township School. Through project-based learning, students are able to synthesize knowledge gained in social studies class. They do this via oral presentation, visual aides, and written expression in the form of journals. IIt is fun to watch the students present, and they never break character.” He added, “This is a lovely program that hopefully continues for many years to come.”

As to our society filled with cell phones and tons of technology, Steffens said, “he kids love talking about times without technology. They get such a kick out of it. How did we ''survive?' They have enjoyed creating so much of this project with the chrome books, yet hey have been equally happy to create using their hands.”





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