History rings bells for students who feel it a lifetime later

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

The grand scheme: John Elberfeld, a former teacher, points to a long timeline, showing Kailee Kanawada and other fifth-graders at Berne-Knox-Westerlo just how far the Civil War was, in the 1860s, from the present time.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Poring over a portrayal: Fifth-grader Logan Warner, center, leans over a battlefield drawing from the Civil War during the Suitcases of History Project on April 10 at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, as Payton Gibbs points out his observations with his pencil.

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Real and meaningful: Jan Miller of the Berne Historical Society raises a set of sleigh bells above her head, ringing their chimes for Berne-Knox-Westerlo elementary-school students in December.

BERNE — This school year, the museum came to the kids. Berne-Knox-Westerlo students were visited by the Berne and Knox historical societies bearing artifacts, pictures, and stories from their collections to share with elementary-school classes.

Suitcases of History, a project of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association, was developed by Dr. Mary Kinnaird, a BKW teacher for 32 years, now retired, and a committee of local teachers and historical organizations from Knox, Berne, and Altamont.

In December, fourth-graders sat in the middle of a room in the BKW elementary school, surrounded by tables of objects from the Berne museum up the road. Ice tongs with wooden handles lay across one table, and a twig broom leaned on another. The students held wooden butter molds as Jan Miller spoke to them about the laborious daily lives of people who occupied the same lands they do.

The project’s aim is to give students the rich experience of a field trip without the expense, and the lesson plans relate to the Common Core Learning Standards. But Kinnaird said she also wanted the students to appreciate local history.

“I think it’s always more meaningful and purposeful when they can make real-world connections,” said fifth-grade teacher Mark Tidd. He said he can take his classes on one or two field trips a year, depending on available funds.

Tidd said having guests from the community lead classes can nudge participation and get students to think more deeply.

The Knox Historical Society visited the elementary school, with husband and wife John Elberfeld and Jane McLean discussing the Civil War and a local man, Lt. Michael Henry Barckley, who joined the fight for the Union.

“I wanted to know why it had to take 30 seconds,” fifth-grade student Gabrielle Tymchyn said after the class of the long exposures of Civil War photography. Such time meant the speedy scenes of battle couldn’t be properly captured, so they were drawn by illustrators working for newspapers.

It was a Thursday in April, the last day of school before spring break at BKW, and Tidd’s students were quietly drawing lines with rulers on their world maps. Lines connected Knox; Albany; Richmond, Va.; and Afghanistan.

Students were reminded that the country is currently at war, thousands of miles away in Afghanistan.

Barckley fought in the battle of Cold Harbor, where, just after the main fighting, his leg was injured by a shell and had to be amputated. He stayed in a war hospital until he died of his wound.

McLean explained that some women disguised themselves as men in order to fight, but many women in the war were nurses. They cooked and cleaned laundry in the camps.

“It’s not fair,” fifth-grader Kailee Kanawada called out. “We had the fighting spirit, too. It’s a disgrace to women.”

A boy, when he heard of Barckley’s death at age 23, said “That’s too young to die.”

Kinnaird said those comments are important for elementary children to make, because it helps them develop the courage to express their opinions.
“I think it shows that they’re listening,” said Kinnaird. “They’re listening to their family members. They’re paying attention to the news. They’re discussing it with their friends.”

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