Lessons bring Civil War to life at Burr Ridge school
Elm School fifth-graders take part in weeklong study of the Civil War. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 20, 2013 2:21AM
BURR RIDGE — Elm School students don’t always salute their teachers or address them as “sir.”
But such formality is all part of the program during Civil War Week at the Burr Ridge school.
Held March 11-15, Civil War Week is something that fifth-graders at Elm have looked forward to every year for nearly 20 years, said teacher Karin Johnson. It takes learning far beyond books and movies to include hands-on activities, a battle re-enactment and even a feast of Yankee cornbread flapjacks.
After receiving their names, ranks and contingent assignments, students started Civil War Week on Monday learning to march, salute and address their commanding officers.
The unit goes far beyond reading stories and watching movies.Each student is given a soldier’s name and is assigned to a unit within either the Union or Confederate army.
“They take those roles very seriously,” Johnson said.
Frank Hill, also known as fifth-grader Perry Zhao, was assigned to the Union Army.
“We’re all Yanks,” said Corporal Hill.
Jill Berry of the school’s Media Resource Center spent Tuesday teaching fifth-graders about the importance of discipline during the war. But rather than hanging students by their thumbs or ordering them to ride the wooden horse, Berry sentenced her students to potato duty. Peeling potatoes served a dual purpose during the war; the tedious task was both a punishment and part of meal preparation.
“We don’t have a lot of food, so be careful not to waste any,” Berry told her soldiers.
In another room, a group of student used potatoes to mend socks.
“I didn’t know I could do this,” Corporal Hill said.
Students learned that mending socks was an important skill during the war, when socks and sewing tools both were in short supply.
“Sometimes they were raided,” explained Private Jesse Magee, aka Derrick Brown.
Using yardsticks as weapons, the week continued Wednesday with a re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge on the school blacktop.
Yardsticks also were put to use in several rousing games of Rounders, an early form of baseball played by soldiers during the war.
Rachel Foracappa, known as Clarence Parsons during Civil War Week, said she knew very little about the war prior to this week.
“It makes the Civil War come alive for these kids,” said teacher aide Barbara Hall.
Preparations for Civil War Week began in January.
“They’re each assigned a topic to research,” Johnson said. Students then present those topics, which include major battles and events, in speeches and slide shows.
“It’s just amazing how much they know when they’re done,” Johnson said.