7Th grade students reenact historic Battle of Gettysburg

Posted: Updated:
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX-- Talk about hands-on learning! Hundreds of middle school students got a firsthand look at history Thursday, as they reenacted the Battle of Gettysburg.

The kids are all 7th graders at Desert Shadows Middle School in Scottsdale. About 400 students dressed up in uniforms, and then took on their roles as Union and Confederate soldiers. The students then performed a full-scale reenactment of the historic battle.

The kids, along with nearly 100 teachers, parents and volunteers, took over Sereno Park in Phoenix to bring a piece of history to life. The kids have been working for months to create their own costumes, weapons and flags, and have been studying the facts and strategies of the Civil War.

"It is very important our young people see the connection between the past and the present. Through reenactments and drawing parallels to present circumstances, students can make those connections," says Social Studies Department Chair Marci Olsen. "The reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg grew out of an idea that students should not just read about history; they need to participate in it and be totally immersed."

Olsen began the tradition of the Gettysburg reenactment in 2004, and has watched this production grow bigger and better each year. It's also a very meaningful event for everyone involved.

"I saw a veteran when we were playing taps, and he was getting emotional," says student Zoe Lesher. "I thought that was a really meaningful thing to see. I felt like I was doing a service to those who died this day, and I felt like I was doing something worthwhile in the role I was playing."

"I really enjoyed the last battle, because all the flag bearers ran in front of the Union troops to rally them, and we all started shouting U.S.A.," says student Sydney Gilbert. "It made me feel like I was actually at the battle of Gettysburg, fighting for my country."

"I think we all learn better by doing," says dad Dave Penoyer, whose daughter Lily took part in today's event. "This is a perfect example of bringing history to life. The teachers and reenactors do an incredible job of teaching the kids about the struggles the soldiers faced, the strategies of the armies, the weapons used, even the medical care on the battlefield. I can't think of a better way to teach kids about such an important subject."

Teachers at Desert Shadows have been working with the students to teach them about the history of the Civil War and the specifics of the infamous battle of 1863. Each student was assigned a side (Union or Confederate). They then had to create a uniform. Many even designed and crafted swords, rifles and flags to carry into "battle."

Students had to stay in character all day, and act and talk as their "characters." Some kids were snipers, some were captains; others, simply foot soldiers.

The day-long event not only included staged battles. Parents and community volunteers staffed several different stations presenting educational opportunities for the kids.

One station was a surgery and triage area, where a Valley doctor used a dummy and several pounds of real meat to show students how to extract bullets from flesh, and how amputations were performed in unsanitary battlefield conditions.

Another station offered the young "soldiers" an opportunity to write their "last letters home," a quiet, reflective area where the kids had to put pen to paper and write what could be a final letter from a soldier to loved ones.

Kids also learned to shoot homemade cannons, and examine actual Civil War artifacts.

"Watching history come alive for DSMS students in the reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg is always one of the highlights of my school year," says DSMS Principal Patrick Clancy. "Rather than simply reading about history out of a textbook, the reenactment provides our students an opportunity to live and experience history. This kind of project-based learning inspires students, which leads to a desire to continue learning outside of the classroom now and into the future. And that is a formula for success."

"To see our 7th graders portray real soldiers that fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and get so excited about it, makes all the hard work worthwhile!" says Olsen.

Each spring, Desert Shadows also stages a reenactment of a formal White House dinner.