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Draper Journal

Summit Academy students travel through history in a day

Jul 25, 2018 12:25PM ● By Julie Slama

Summit Academy sixth-grade learn about World War I trench warfare through a simulation as part of History Day. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

If visitors were to walk in, they may be a little confused at students ducking behind turned-over desks, throwing wadded paper balls at each other in the dark. But what was really going on in the Summit Academy classroom was students posing as soldiers and learning about trench warfare during World War I.

As paper was tossed back and forth over the trench created by sideways desks, a break in the action came. Students learned that randomly some of their fellow classmates, or soldiers, were hit by shrapnel, which exploded and dismembered them. Others came down with trench foot — the blackening and death of skin tissue caused by the cold, damp, unsanitary conditions of war.

“I hope they learn what life was like in the trenches,” said sixth-grade teacher Victoria Scott, who was named after her great-grandfather who served during World War I. “I’ve shared the stories of my great-grandfather so they learn that war is not glamorous. I want them to imagine having to live in these conditions every day to keep peace. War is something to avoid at all costs.” 

Through stopping periodically, Scott teaches students terminology, pictures and even shows her grandfather’s war medals. At one point, there is peace, and that is when Scott shows a video of Christmas 1914 when the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial truce to celebrate the holiday. 

This was just one 45-minute rotation at Summit Academy’s first-ever sixth-grade History Day, an opportunity for students to engage deeper into some of the subjects they learned about during the year. 

In a classroom nearby, other students weren’t just playing Monopoly, but rather socialist and communist variations created by sixth-grade teacher Lindy Hatch. 

“It gives students a better understanding of these periods in history,” she said, adding that she also read to students the Peter Sis book “The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.” “In communistic Monopoly, nobody owns property; there is no higher and lower class since the government owns everything. Everyone is treated equally. Where socialist Monopoly is a mix between the real game and communism.” 

Sixth-grader Ashton Benson, was alongside classmates Ruel Dansie, David Bergenthal and Mitchell Ward, came from the trenches to play the Monopoly games.

“In communism Monopoly, we’re equal, but the government has control, where in socialist Monopoly, we all share equally what we own,” Ashton said, adding that he learned about weapons such as mustard gas bombs in the trenches. 

David said that through playing the board game, he was understanding concepts he studied. 

“I have a better idea of communism and socialism through applying it to something I know and enjoy,” he said. 

In another rotation, sixth-grader Sunny Whitman learned about the Holocaust, where millions of Jews and other people died and suffered at the hands of German dictator Adolf Hitler in World War II. 

“Not soldiers, but 12 million people — Utah is three million, so four times that is mind-boggling to me,” teacher Rebecca Yockey told students. “It could have been stopped and prevented in the beginning. Some people helped and did heroic things, but a lot of people were scared and did nothing. However, you need to understand that leading up to that, people believed in Hitler because it was at a time when people were in a vulnerable place and he said he was going to fix problems.” 

Through reading Eve Bunting’s “Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust” and writing their own poetry — and sharing it — Sunny and her classmates were able to learn what influenced Hitler to believe Jews were different and ultimately bad.

“It’s hard to understand why people didn’t help each other, but they believed what Hitler said,” she said after she finished etching a hieroglyph in yet another session. “I decided to make a hieroglyph that uses symbols that talk a lot about me. Back then, with all the figures, it must have been cool to learn the Egyptian stories and be able to write them to share with each other.” 

The hieroglyphs were a way to teach students to appreciate ancient culture, sixth-grade teacher Kevin Vance said. 

“When we studied Egyptian art and history, I wanted them to engage in a fun way and learn about the messages of what was left behind,” he said, adding that he created this lesson when he was in college, but this was the first time he was able to teach it. “This gave students a hands-on feel for decoding messages and using rocks and nails to communicate through symbols.” 

Using primitive tools proved to be challenging. 

“It was fun, but hard to use the nail to carve,” sixth-grader Wilson Broadbent said.

There was more fun for students as they rotated into the Olympics, which included running, throwing Frisbees, shooting free throws and other modified sports activities. Summit Academy high school students assisted with the events. 

“They learned the history and the time periods tied into the Olympics, but by putting it into practice, they’re learning to work together and build camaraderie,” teacher Dion Drummond said. “They’re practicing social skills while competing for a team medal. The day brings in history, science, arts, math and it’s a fun, cumulating way to engage in what they learn all year.”