Field trip takes sixth--grade class back to the past

October 05, 1990|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

Robin MacColl had some trouble describing what it was like to shed her modern trappings in order to bring to life her post-Revolutionary War history lesson.

"You have time to play and stuff, but it's sort of like work," said MacColl, a sixth-grader at Bryn Mawr, a Baltimore private school.

Living like homesteaders in the late 18th century, as MacColl and about 60 of her classmates are doing this week on a Harford County farm, looks a lot like both.

Educators call it an "immersion experience," in which students put themselves in the shoes of those they are studying.

Far from the distant excitement of a shopping mall, the hollow where the students have cooked stew over a fire and frolicked in the shallow waters of Bynum Run appears a seriously cozy place to be.

"It smells good out here," said Katie J. Christensen, 11.

Overhead, the local squadron of Canada geese honked by repeatedly.

The students, who donned linen skirts, shifts and bonnets for the experience, agreed that their outdoor history lesson had it all over books and indoor classrooms.

But would they want to live like that all the time? "Noooo," they chimed back.

The week-long excursion was started five years ago by the private girls' school in north Baltimore.

"There's something very valuable in education not learned by traditional ways, but by actual experiences," said Susanna Stern, a 28-year-old history teacher at Bryn Mawr, which has about 800 students.

"I think things like this create a real bonding among the kids," said Bill Christensen, a parent who donned 18th-century garb and spent a night in the woods with Katie, his daughter.

Almost apologetically, Christensen, an advertising executive, revealed that he had stashed a portable telephone in his tent.

In the wooded hollow, the students have been spending their days wading in the chilly waters of Bynum Run, making dolls of corn husks and sitting around the cooking fire. They have been doing their own dishes and even learned how to chop firewood.

The activity has been almost nonstop. "They've all been staying occupied. It's amazing," Christensen said.

At night, they sleep on straw floors in tents. Modern sleeping bags keep them warm.

"We try to make it as realistic as possible," said Bill Nelson, 36, a science teacher at the school who was helping supervise the students.

"We're making men out of them," he joked.

Yes, going to the bathroom outside can be rough. And, yes, everything seems to be wet and dirty.

But that is a small price to pay for what the students said would be a memorable form of schooling.

"We all take for granted the things we have," said Yasmin Zerhouni, another student. "We don't really need them."

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