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Draper Journal

Back in the day: Summit students explore colony life

Feb 01, 2023 04:18PM ● By Julie Slama

Summit Academy fifth-grader Lumen Sackett portrays Betsy Ross at the school’s first Colonial Days fair. (Photo courtesy of Summit Academy)

Summit Academy’s Shelby Reardon had seen the Declaration of Independence in the National Archives, but in her fifth-grade class, she learned more about it.
Leading up to the school’s Colonial Days, students were assigned to learn and share about the original colonies. 

Shelby learned about the Pennsylvania Colony and shared about the well-known statesman, publisher, inventor, postmaster general and diplomat Benjamin Franklin. She learned he published the Pennsylvania Gazette, discovered electricity and invented bifocal glasses, negotiated and wrote the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War and was part of the five-member committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Students also wrote a two-page report about the colony that included when it was founded and by whom, why it was founded, and its form of government. They included the values and traditions of the colony. Students then created trifolds that included items from their report and other facts they found interesting, said fifth-grade teacher Victoria Scott. 

“It all was done simultaneously so as we were learning about it, they were also researching. We gave them some research questions to help them guide their research. For example, what was the colonists’ relationship with the indigenous tribes? And then, they needed to write about their job, how did it impact their colony and if that job was still relevant today and how so? Students also had to decide if modern technology might have helped their occupation and if so, how? Some kids who were farmers mentioned having computerized equipment and tractors and others who were merchants included having the internet to sell their items.”

Studying the nation’s early times helped Shelby and her 94 fifth-grade classmates prepare for their Colonial Day Fair, where they shared trifolds they created with schoolmates and parents.  Each student was given an occupation to learn about and dress in period clothing. As an innkeeper, Shelby wore an orange dress with green highlights that had a built-in corset that her aunt sewed. 

“I’m really little so it fit me,” she said without the laces having to be pulled too tight. “She built in a bunch of layers and underskirt and everything. The Colonial Days project was so much fun. Most everyone dressed up as we were all invested, and we were able to show how our colonies changed history.”

Throughout the day, students dressed as carpenters, tanners, blacksmiths, farmers, goldsmiths, apothecaries, doctors and other occupations. After the Colonial Day fair, students participated in “A Day in the Life of a Colonist,” where they rotated through classrooms to learn activities of yesteryear. They made their own bread and butter, they played colonial games and even created silhouette portraits.

This was the inaugural year of Colony Days. In the past, Summit Academy has held state fairs, but Scott said they decided “to change it up” and also this way, they could include colonist professions.

“We have a teacher (Alessia Johnson) who’s dad taught fifth grade and he did it, so we were able to ask advice from him. The kids seemed to really take to it, and they really liked dressing up in their occupations. They had a lot of fun with that. They also brought in some really cool artifacts that represented either something from their colony or their occupation and found it interesting to make those connections with our modern world,” Scott said.

She also said it was a good opportunity for students to learn more about the origins of those East Coast states as many of them have not traveled to them. 

“A few of them may have been to New York, Massachusetts or even Virginia if they traveled to (Washington) D.C., but now, when they hopefully go to these states, they’ll be able to see some of the colonial influences on those places today and how this led to self-government in the United States and the idea of self-rule that’s one of our standards. A lot of the colonies were founded based on religious freedom, so they’ve learned the impact that had on the Constitution and the importance of religious freedom today.”

Scott said fifth-grade students study America from native tribes through modern times.

“We start with tribes like the Iroquois League and their form of government and some of the influences that the Native Americans had on the colonies. We include their relationships and that impact that colonialism had. We touch on when people came from Asia across the land bridge and then study when the Europeans first arrived to our country. A big chunk of our focus is from the colonies through the late 1800s,” she said. “The students have really enjoyed being immersed in learning about the colonies. By putting themselves in the shoes of the colonists, it’s the most effective way to learn and they will remember what these people did, how they may have felt, and even how it impacts us today.”