Presha Amin took hold of one end of a long wooden stick with both hands. She used her shoulder to help hold it up. The other end of the stick was attached to a second piece of wood that was dipped into a black cauldron full of steam and stew.
Amin, a first-grader at Bethel Hill Charter School, was getting a first-hand lesson in how the first white settlers in the United States cooked some of their food. It was part of a morning full of activities for first- and second-grade students designed to give them a hands-on opportunity to learn about life as a pilgrim.
While Amin was outside stirring stew, other students were sitting around a table with first-grade teacher Suzanne Boyette, who was explaining that popcorn, of all things, was part of the first Thanksgiving meal.
“So when you have your Thanksgiving meal on Thursday,” Boyette told the students, “be sure to ask where the popcorn is. You can explain to them that it was what the pilgrims ate at the first Thanksgiving. You might teach your family something.”
The settling of American and colonialism are part of the curriculum for students in first and second grade at the school. Principal Jessica Poole said the two days worth of activities leading up to Thanksgiving break are a chance for students to learn in a new, fun way.
“Everybody gets into it. Some of the students are dressed up. Our teachers have been preparing for this for several weeks. A lot of them are even dressed for the part today,” Poole said.
The lessons learned by taking part in activities are helpful for the students. They move frequently throughout classrooms and common spaces, working on a variety of different activities. The extra activity helps keep them focused for the short time they are at a station. And they reinforce the lessens teachers have been giving in their classrooms over the past couple weeks.
Freda Tillman, a second-grade teacher at Bethel Hill, was managing a station where sugar bread was being baked. She turned to one of her students, Rook Clayton, and started firing off questions to him, which he answered in quick succession.
Tillman, Poole and other teachers say the hands-on learning wouldn’t be possible without the large contingent of volunteers who pitch in. At one table, three adults sat with three children helping them make a craft using string and paper plates. Outside, volunteer Cecil Lynn made sure students like Presha Amin got the chance to stir the stew without any trouble. The light-hearted Lynn pointed out quickly, though, that he wasn’t a parent volunteer. “I’m a grandparent volunteer,” he said.