Students learn history by living it
By LORRI HELFAND
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 8, 2001
Courtney Gerboth, 10, sat on the porch steps of a log cabin as she cranked the canister of an old-fashioned ice cream maker. With a grimace on her face, she shook out her right arm and started cranking with her left.
Next to her, Rachel Logemann and Stephanie Mastromoro, both 10, embroidered tiny leaf patterns on ivory cloths stretched over wooden frames.
And, on the porch behind them, Rachel's sister, Jessica Logemann, 7, watched chunks of butter form as she furiously shook a glass jar filled with heavy cream.
Last Tuesday, these students from Pinellas Christian Homeschools, along with students from Bay Pines Lutheran and Walsingham Elementary schools, took a trip back in time at Heritage Village. They kicked off a four-day program called "Living History Week," which lets local students pretend to be Pinellas County pioneers.
Heritage Village has hosted the history week for at least 15 years, and it is one of several educational programs offered by the village, according to Ellen Babb, curator of education,.
Aside from churning butter, making ice cream and embroidering, children shucked corn, played pioneer games and indulged in some old-fashioned square dancing.
Each school staked out a historic structure at the 21-acre village. Wearing costumes fashioned from thrift store finds, the home-schoolers settled at the McMullen Coachman Loghouse, which is the oldest existing structure in Pinellas County.
Under the towering canopy of the Bandstand, a replica of the Williams Park bandstand built in 1895, third-graders from Walsingham Elementary clapped their hands and swung their partners to folksy tunes.
General education students teamed with students with special needs to put a spin on traditional square dancing. Kids who use wheelchairs paired up with their peers, who seamlessly led them to and fro and around the stage for several dance numbers.
The effortless performances were misleading, however, because the students had been practicing for several weeks, according to Sondra Evans, an enhanced assistant at Walsingham.
Evans said she was impressed by how eager the general education students were to help the students with special needs.
"What's amazing to me is how the kids are willing to adapt, helping them with their wheelchairs. That's been a real neat part of this," she said.
Cindy Alvarez, 10, guided Melissa Cook, 9, who grinned from ear to ear as she pretended to pick up imaginary fruit during The Paw-Paw Patch song.
After the performance, Jacob Maddox, 9, said he got a thrill from helping out other kids.
"I got to push the wheelchair," he said excitedly. "I like to help some people whose legs don't really work."
Third-grade teacher Ingrid Brown said that Walsingham students have visited the village for 12 years.
This visit preceded an upcoming unit on Pinellas County history, Brown said, and she believes her students will be stimulated by the experience.
"I think they'll have more enthusiasm. And, having done this first, they'll be able to relate to it better," she said.
Walsingham students began performing the square dancing routine seven years ago, when Brown and Jan Moak, who teaches physically impaired students, decided to combine their classes for one period a day. Each day, the students take their science/social studies class together and, according to Brown, both groups benefit.
The special needs students gain confidence and a sense of belonging and her students learn responsibility and respect for others, she said.
Brown said she's never regretted the choice to blend the two groups.
"I've never had a year, in seven years, where children have balked," she said.
And despite children's tendencies to poke fun at each other, she added, "I don't think I've ever heard a cruel remark made."
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