BY LEAH LEVY/SPECIAL FOR AJT//

 

Amishal Weismark and Eliana Linsider

Amishal Weismark and Eliana Linsider

First graders at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy donned tricorns and mob caps to perform at their annual Colonial Festival, celebrating their early American history unit just in time for Thanksgiving.

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Each year, the first grade studies Colonial America with teachers Beth Intro, Gail Skolsky, and Chris Gleklen. These teachers use a variety of study methods to make their students experts on life in Colonial America, beginning with an examination of what “history” means.

They asked students about their personal histories: What were their first words? What did they look like as babies? After putting these memories into a memory quilt, as was popular in the Colonial era, the class moved on to broader histories: What did the first car or the first phone look like?

One class studied life in Colonial schools—they learned how to do needlepoint, cross-stitch samplers, weave paper placemats, make lanterns, flags, and their own china teacups and saucers. Another class studied the Declaration of Independence and experimented with their own personal declarations.

To bring a Jewish element into the unit, they also examined the lives of famous Jews from Colonial America. The whole school adapted a colonial spirit, and there was even a beautiful replica of the Mayflower on display, built by GHA volunteer (and professional architect) Jean Paul Pentecouteau.

The culmination of all this hard work took place last Friday when first graders dressed in period costumes and invited their friends and family to GHA, where they performed a concert of patriotic songs (with sign-language translators from the middle-school elective class) and danced the Minuet and a square dance onstage.

At different stations around the room, they also demonstrated the use of natural dyes to color cloth, how to make one’s own butter and sachets, writing with quill and ink, how to seal envelopes with red sealing wax, and taught everyone how to play with colonial toys.

At the end of the program, the first graders presented Interim Head of School Leah Summers with a cross-stitch “Home Sweet Home” sampler to decorate the GHA hallways. Another cross-stitch sampler was presented to retired GHA teacher Sharon Sarnat—who first instituted the annual Colonial festival—by her first-grade granddaughter, Talya Sarnat.

The first graders all reflected on the festival excitedly. “My favorite part was the singing,” said Kayla Wallenstein. Micah Baron added, “I like the singing AND the dancing.” Eliana Linsider stated, “The most interesting thing I learned was all about the thirteen colonies.”

“This program was such a perfect example of cross-disciplinary education,” said Esther Shulkes, mother of first grader Shmuel Shulkes. “Every subject was incorporated; my son was completely immersed in the experience.”

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