Snapshot of the past! Students recreate historic 'White House dinner' experience

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Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Desert Shadows Middle School White House dinner reenactment (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

The White House is sure a different place from what it was in the 1940s. 

But one Valley middle school is allowing hundreds of students to get a glimpse of what life was like at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue... decades ago.

Close to 500 seventh-graders at Desert Shadows Middle School in Scottsdale took part in a "White House Dinner Reenactment" on Friday.

Kids donned costumes, grabbed props, and stepped back into the year 1942.

The event is a simulation of a formal state dinner hosted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his guest of honor, Sir Winston Churchill. 

The students have been preparing in class for months, learning things like etiquette, table manners and formal dance steps.

"We're just bringing it back to life." - Seventh-grader Morgan McFadzen

It's definitely not a typical school day for these kiddos. Students board charter buses at school in the morning and are transported to Shriner’s Auditorium.

For the rest of the day, it’s like a snapshot of the past, as they immerse themselves in a White House dinner experience.

Even the parents get into the spirit of things. Hundreds of moms, dads, and even grandparents spend the day at the event, helping out as servers and graders. 

The servers stay busy serving the kids a six-course meal. 

And the graders make sure the students stay in character. Each student is assigned a historical figure to portray throughout the day. For some, it could be a relative or family friend from the World War ll era.

"I have never been so moved as when I hear these young people speak the names of their ancestors involved in WWII," says Social Studies Department Chair Marci Olsen, who is the brains and the heart behind this beloved event. "These are names that have not been spoken for a very long time and now, here they are!  These students are honoring their past and learning about one of the most significant events in the history of the world."

"Today is really cool because our ancestors fought in World War ll," said student Sydney Nelson. "And now we get to remember them. And we get to portray them. And we get to be a part of history."

"We get to simulate exactly what our relatives went through." Seventh-grader Zachary Wood

You won’t see any kids in jeans and flip flops at this school event. The dress code is strict and helps set the mood for recreating the time period. Girls wear formal gowns, vintage dresses or knee-length (or longer) skirts. Guys wear collared shirts, ties and long pants.

Some even come in military uniform.

The dinner begins with conversation and mingling. Parent servers offer appetizers and drinks. (Sparkling apple cider, of course!)  After that, a panel of “dignitaries” enters the room and is seated at the head table. A six-course meal is served, followed by toasts, entertainment and a meet-and-greet with the president and first lady in the "Rose Garden."

Etiquette and manners are key on this day.

"The culture of society today is quite different from 1942," says Olsen. "It is nice to see these young people bring back some of the customs of politeness and respect from the past.  When you watch these young men escorting the females, pulling out chairs for them, etc., it is quite affirming that politeness will never go out of style."

The final event of the day is the formal student dancing. Kids are paired up according to height, and show off the dance moves they’ve been practicing for weeks and weeks. 

A live orchestra accompanies the event, (we heard Moon River, among other favorites!) making the entire event rich in authenticity. 

"It is a creative and engaging way to learn about history."  - Seventh-grader Jackson Geck

It takes a village to pull off this impressive event, year after year. Olsen counts on parent volunteer extraordinaire, Mary Stevens to be her right-hand woman. And Stevens, even though her kids no longer go to Desert Shadows, continues to return to this event each spring.

"Parents and community members get so excited about this event, many of them return to help us year after year, even when they have no students involved! I can't tell you the number of comments I hear every year about how incredible what these students and parents do! The community comes together to donate time and effort to see these students fulfill an assignment they will never forget," said Stevens.

Each year, the White House Dinner is a highly-anticipated event, and something not done by any other school in the Valley.

"I think it is cool that we are the only school that does this," says seventh-grader Grey Gartin.  "It brings the past to life. We get to learn about it in a different way than from just a textbook. We get to participate."

The middle-schoolers say it has been an unforgettable learning experience, and much more fun and interactive than sitting in a classroom.

"What I like about it is, it's a hands-on experience," said student Chase Beshey. "We don't have to just look in the books and read. We can be there."

[Watch 2016 White House Dinner Reenactment]

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