BETHEL Keeping history alive

November 20, 2018

BETHEL — Eighth-graders at Bethel Middle School just finished researching camp life in the Revolutionary War, but on Tuesday they witnessed first-hand what that experience would have been like.

Five reenactors dressed in eighteenth century garb came to the middle school library to show the students what life was like for women and Continental and British soldiers during the war.

Each had replicas of equipment, such as canteens, drums and a pipe tomahawk their characters would have used back then. Students passed around the items and even churned their own butter.

“It made you feel like you were there at the time,” eighth-grader Joe Troetti said.

The day was an example of “authentic learning,” something the social studies department emphasizes to foster critical thinking and help students understand the material, said Debbie Tierney, the social studies teacher who helped organize the program.

“Students learn so much more from first-hand experience,” she said. “Their experience is more meaningful than reading words off pages in a book.”

Tierney also brings veterans to the school so students can learn about military life and recently led a field trip to Boston, where students walked the Freedom Trail and visited Quincy Market. She plans to ask a congressman to speak to her class during an upcoming unit on the constitution.

Tierney started the reanactor program last year when she learned her student teacher, Bill Hagan, was a reenactor.

Hagan, who now teaches sixth-grade social studies at the school, was dressed as a loyalist soldier.

“We do this once a year to try to bring history to life for her kids,” he said.

His character was a whitesmith who crafted softer metals, so he passed around lead and pewter the soldiers would have used.

Hagan explained to students why he was in a green coat, not red. The British wore red coats, but there were not enough to go around, so American loyalists were given green, he said.

“This was really the first American civil war, where there were Americans on both sides fighting,” Hagan told the students.

The students moved in stations around the library to observe and ask the reenactors questions they had developed in a previous class.

The students said they were impressed with how the reenactors stayed in character and how interactive the day was.

“You can see how they dealt with problems and went about their daily lives,” eighth-grader Olivia Cantadori said.

Among the reenactors was James Burr. He has been a reenactor since 1975 and plays a continental soldier.

He said his ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and, in a way, he does, too.

“They say history repeats itself and it does,” Burr said.

Burr’s daughter, Cindy Wolf, played a colonial woman and taught the students how to churn butter. His son-in-law, Lawrence Wood, was dressed as a war chief from the Mohawk tribe.

Wood has been a reenactor for about five years and goes to events nearly every weekend.

“We do it because we love what we do and we love the history,” Wood said. “We want to keep it alive.”

He said Tuesday’s lesson would help students understand the Revolutionary War better than anything else could.

“It’s one thing to read about it in a book,” he said. “It’s another thing to go out and experience it.”

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