Grant sends ninth grades back in time

April 1, 2004

Newswise — The 9th graders from Newton and Grinnell, Iowa, never thought high school would be like this—black powder cannons firing throughout the day, medical personnel amputating one arm and operating on another, music playing in the distance, and infantry going through drills and firing their weapons.

Because of grants from Grinnell College and the Newton Community School District, nine high school students will join living history participants in Grinnell, teaching the Civil War to groups of 5th and 8th grade students who are participating in Camp Grinnell, a Civil War living history encampment. Camp Grinnell is April 16-17 at the Poweshiek County Fairgrounds, Grinnell, Iowa.

The high school students will join educators and volunteers dressed in Union and Confederate uniforms—wool uniforms always hot and mostly two sizes too big—or in coats and dresses traditionally called "hoop skirts," to teach the Civil War to the middle school students.

Made possible by grants from Grinnell College’s Office of Community Enhancement’s Community Mini-Grant program and the Newton Community School District, the 9th graders from Newton and Grinnell, along with area home-schooled students, competed in an essay contest to get a chance to take part in a Civil War living history encampment. The students will become the teachers, working side by side with educators and living historians to present as realistic an encampment as possible.

"We felt that it was very important to develop the encampment to bring 9th grade students back as educators," said John Keller, an educator from Newton and a participant in the encampment. "Students are discovering at the encampment that learning can be fun, and they want to come back for more. And with the grants from Grinnell College and the Newton school district, we are able to provide them that opportunity."

With six stations, the students may get a taste of teaching about women in the Civil War, cannons of the era, the music of the period, the medical practices of the day, the Confederate perspective of the war, and infantry and their tactics.

As school districts across the country face massive budget cuts, the encampment was developed in 2003 by concerned parents, educators, and living historians in Iowa. With support from the school districts, Grinnell College, volunteers, and city and county officials, Camp Grinnell filled an educational void during the budget crisis.

"The encampment is a great tool for us," said Gary Larsson, an eighth grade Newton teacher and participant in Camp Grinnell. "Our resources are limited to textbooks and there are not that many other tools we can bring in for our students. Camp Grinnell helps gives educators some of those resources."

Not only has Camp Grinnell been developed for area students, but the resources used to develop the encampment have been placed on a web site titled "Camp Grinnell." By accessing school districts throughout the country can develop a Civil War curriculum for their students.

"Our goal is to make this a complete learning experience for the students," said Frank Shults, principal at Grinnell Middle School "We want the students to go home and be excited about what they learned at school that day. We especially want the 9th graders to remain enthused about not only what they learned, but how they learned."