MANCHESTER – To immerse students in an important aspect of early American history, St. James School fifth-grade teachers Denise Wojtyna and Diane DiBenedetto transformed a classroom into an emigrant ship for a day.
The lesson was designed to help students appreciate the hardships that our forefathers experienced as they set sail for the New World.
Students arrived for school wearing period clothes and hauling all the supplies they would need for the adventure. Supplies included food, water, blankets, pillows and period-appropriate entertainment.
Because all items had to coincide with articles available in the early 1600s through late 1800s,
students, like emigrants before them, waited in a long line while bag checkers went through their belongings and cleared them for departure.
Upon boarding, students were asked to sign a ship’s manifest and were given their passenger papers (classwork). They then stored their belongings in the tight sleeping quarters – one space being designated for boys and one for girls.
After everyone was on board, the classroom door was shut and all 50 students settled in for their day at sea.
Although the fifth grade teachers did remain in the classroom, the students (led by their two designated captains) were solely responsible for completing their work, maintaining a peaceful ship and working as a team to overcome challenges. Two “ministers” on the ship ensured that hourly prayers were said. When rations started to dwindle, students took turns fishing in the stairwell.
Throughout the day, students took breaks from their chores to play authentic games such as
cards and wooden checkers.
Students later wrote about the day in their journals. Some expressed a dislike for the loud, cramped conditions, but all came away with a new appreciation for the hardships, bravery and determination of many of our country’s forefathers
“Even though they [the emigrants] didn’t know the difference, I am thankful for how we live now and all the things we have,” said Peyton Carpenter, who was designated a captain.
Nicholas Guenther, one of the ship’s ministers, said, “It was fun in the beginning but it ended up being a very long day.”
St. James School is a recent winner of the Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education. The school is now accepting applications for its prekindergarten through eighth-grade classes for the 2015-16 school year. Information is available at www.saintjamesschool.net.