Brunswick students live, learn colonial history

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BRUNSWICK — To the average passerby on June 8, the field at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary might have looked like it was zapped by a time machine.

Fifth-grade students in colonial garb stood under white tents, showcasing old-fashioned goods such as hand-dipped candles and dried apples, while others spun yarn and used a charcoal grill for blacksmithing. 

The occasion was the first annual Old Brunswick Day, and it didn’t require any time travel – just some grant funding from the Brunswick Community Education Foundation

According to the BCF website, the event was intended to “bring a living history of colonial Brunswick and the American Revolution” to both the school and the surrounding community. Third-grade students and some of their parents rotated around the field stations to learn about the fifth-grade displays.

Before the events on the field, fifth-graders also staged a re-enactment earlier in the morning.

Alex Pantaz, a member of the organization’s board, said it paid for the tents and some other materials for the day he called “the new historical re-enactment” end-of-the-year event the school holds.

The antique tools present at some of the stations, which included a spinning wheel and old hand tools, were also purchased through funding from the organization a few years ago.

Pantaz said a teacher who has since left the district wanted to “augment the curriculum” in a few different areas by incorporating antique woodworking into the colonial unit.

“We just enable teachers to these projects that they would like to do that there has traditionally been no money for,” he said. “Basically we take in the ideas in the form of grant applications, we have an independent committee of educators (evaluating) them, and then we give out the money.”

Though many teachers were walking around decked out in old-fashioned clothing Friday, the fifth-graders were put in the position of instructors on various aspects of colonial culture. 

Tents and tables ranged from the mundane chores of everyday life, such as doing laundry with a washboard to learning about natural remedies for illnesses, made by students from herbs and other ingredients at the apothecary tent.

Participants could also pretend to fish out of a kiddie pool with magnetic fishing rods, taste test homemade dried apple chips, and try their hand at colonial pastimes such as crocheting, weaving, or playing with marbles.

In the far corner of the field there was also a “living wax museum,” where fifth-grade actors taught visitors about the Salem witch trials, and another educational tent that taught about in-school punishments during the era, such as wearing dunce caps.

Joe Shenk, a fifth-grader in charge of spinning yarn, said it was fun but also “very annoying” at times because the spinning wheel was malfunctioning.

Fifth-grader Addison Smith, however, who was at the weaving station, seemed to be enjoying her task. She said her teacher, Blair Dwyer, taught her how to use the mini loom and she “taught everybody else.” 

Debbie LaPointe, a third-grade teacher, was stationed with her students at a tent converted into a replica of a colonial home.

To complement other elements in the hut, like the replica fireplace inside, she brought in some authentic colonial artifacts that once belonged to her great-great-grandfather – his hunting lantern and wooden lunchbox.

Before Old Brunswick Day, LaPointe said the school used to do an annual Civil War re-enactment at the end of the year with fifth-graders.

After the curriculum changed last year, however, she said Harriet Beecher Stowe began focusing more on the Revolutionary War period. The new initiative, she said, is good because it “involves more people,” allowing for third-graders to be involved too.

She added that teaching the kids traditional activities such as needlepoint and cat’s cradle was fascinating.

“What’s really interesting is, a lot of kids nowadays don’t have the fine motor dexterity they used to,” she said. “So watching them at first with string was really kind of funny because they had such a difficult time with it, but within a day of doing it they became great at it.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Fifth graders Nolan Klimash, left, and Joe Shenk use a spinning wheel at the first annual Old Brunswick Day June 8, when fifth-graders were able to dress up in colonial garb and teach about the time period through crafts and other activities. 

Brunswick third-graders Ben Morey, left, and Riley Funderbunk with their teacher, Debbie LaPointe, at Old Brunswick Day on June 8. 

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