'Railroad' takes pupils closer to black history School simulates slave escape route ANNE ARUNDEL SCHOOLS

February 22, 1993|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

The Underground Railroad carried a great price tag -- the risk of beatings and death -- for the slaves who dared to use the escape route to freedom.

But students of Windsor Farm Elementary School had only to read a book about the life of any famous black person for a ticket on their own Underground Railroad.

As part of Black History Month, second-graders at the school in Arnold decorated their hallway with maps and trees, houses and rivers to mark the journey of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from a plantation in Dorchester County in 1849 to freedom in Philadelphia, then returned to lead other slaves along the same route.

Some students acted as tour guides, wearing conductor hats, as they led their classmates along the path. Others portrayed Ms. Tubman and the Quakers who helped her.

One way or another, all 100 second-grade students had a chance to take part in the tour.

Their teachers, Linda Jones and Yvonne Meyer, had the students read "The Drinking Gourd," which details Ms. Tubman's flight. The teachers said the children were so mesmerized by the story that they came to believe a re-creation of it would benefit not only their students, but the rest of the school, too.

"The children have just a new awareness of who they are and their place in history," said Mrs. Meyer. "This has just been a wealth of information for the children."

Scott Clempner, who portrayed one of the Quakers who helped Harriet Tubman escape, said he didn't know much about the woman other than that she was a slave.

"I learned how hard it was being a slave and what slavery was," said Scott, 8. "And, I learned that she had to walk a long way to be free."

The students used paper stars pasted over ceiling light fixtures in the hallways to re-create the Big Dipper, the drinking gourd that Ms. Tubman and other escaped slaves followed on their way north.

The youngsters followed the tour from Bucktown, where a Quaker woman warned Ms. Tubman that her master was about to sell her, to Philadelphia.

Tour guides led the students to the headwaters of the Choptank River, where Ms. Tubman came upon a white house with green shutters.

The owner of that house helped disguise her as a well-dressed woman and got her a carriage ride to Camden, N.J., where she changed to the outfit of a working man to board a train for Wilmington, Del., then walked to Philadelphia.

The students said they learned a lot about slavery from reading "The Drinking Gourd" and from portraying characters in the story.

"I learned what it took to be a slave, how hard you had to work, and that a lot of times you got beaten," said Virginia Knudson, 7, who portrayed one of the people who helped Ms. Tubman escape.

"I learned what it took to escape and what it took for people to help the slaves escape."

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