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Eastchester Students Head to the 'Wild Wild West'

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Fifth-graders at Eastchester’s Greenvale School took a ride on the Oregon Trail on Tuesday as they celebrated the end of their pioneers study unit with their Grasslands Festival.

Children from six classes were broken into three groups for multiple activities as they lived a day in the life of a frontier person.

Students were taught how pioneer children entertained themselves, were introduced to the hardships of life on the dirt road and ate traditional food from the era, such as johnnycakes and frybread.

Fifth-grade teacher Jessica O’Hara said the festival was meant to be fun, but it was also important the students simultaneously learn.

“Children have different modalities, and for some, this is a better way to retain information. This allows them to experience the information in a different form,” she said. “This is a memory they’ll share, and it’s something they’re going to talk about. That broadens the whole experience.”

In one room, the students played traditional games seen on the westward trail, such as jacks, button-button and pick-up sticks. A separate group acted out a play, a simple source of entertainment on the trail.

“Since they were traveling, the games had to be light,” O’Hara said. “And it’s not like there were any board games at that time.”

In another room, the students carefully constructed their own prairie schooners out of cardboard and paper, displaying them in the hallway when they were finished. While they made their wagons, they snacked on popcorn, a simple treat they could heat over the fire in a pan back in the day.

The children created faux gravestones, complete with their own epitaphs, to show the arduous journey often didn’t end well for travelers.

“We wanted to show that the experience was difficult and challenging. Pioneers had to have a brave, courageous spirit,” O’Hara said. “They had to be creative with limited supplies. They couldn’t just go to the store. They had to entertain themselves with the things around them and survive the trail. We have none of those experiences.”

The curriculum in the unit was grounded in several different subjects, from technology to English. The students read a handful of selections depicting the time period, including “Little House on the Prairie.” To tie in social studies, the students were grouped into immigrant families and had a discussion of the different difficulties they faced.

To include science, the students discussed the type of grass and things found in nature along the trails during that time period. They had to factor in the square footage of their schooners and they used computers along the way to tie in technology.

“The interconnectedness makes this a great experience,” O’Hara said. “It helps us to put the thread through everything because all of it is connected.”

Joe DeCrenza, another fifth-grade teacher, said this was a perfect way to end the long unit.

“Since it ties across multiple curriculum areas, it’s a very fun, nice, culminating activity,” he said. “It’s also nice to get to connect with the other students who aren’t in our class. This lets the students put what they’ve learned into action.”

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