BOURBON — “Total immersion in a bygone culture is a good way to learn to read.” So says Mrs. Susie Mullin, who teaches fifth grade STARS at Triton Elementary School. As the teacher responsible for the social studies area, she uses the immersion technique to create a vital interest in reading.
STARS (Students and Teachers Achieving Reading Success) is an “intervention” program at Triton in which students who are identified as needing additional instruction in reading go to her classroom at various times during the school day. The term for this extra help used to be called remediation, but “intervention” has become the buzzword of late. “I don’t like the word ‘intervention’ either,” says Mullin. “It sounds too much like court-ordered rehabilitation. These students are definitely not juvenile delinquents. They are vitally interested and interesting students.”
Regardless of the term used, the goal is to help students read at a higher level. Mullin achieves success by delving into a particular period in U.S. history — the colonial period of the Revolutionary War. Rather than just reading history books, she involves the students in researching various aspects of colonial life. Choosing an occupation of the day, each student researches a different craft or job, preparing a report and a display for the bulletin board.
Studying buildings of the day, students participate in creating and labeling an elaborate colonial village with model buildings which Mullin has collected over the years. Food was as important a topic as it is today. Students were able to learn what colonials ate and how. An accurate table display shows actual dish placement and usage. A longer table setting enables students to sit and experience a formal dinner setting in a wealthier family’s house.
One learning is that daily socialization and gossip which takes place at the corner café or McDonald’s now was once the province of the neighborhood tavern, or Ordinary. Students also studied attire of the day, and were able to step into colonials’ shoes by donning costume pieces accurate for the period.
All of which sounds interesting and fun, but that is only the beginning. Last Friday, STARS students demonstrated their new learnings by inviting the entire school to experience life in colonial America. Dressing the part, the students hosted entire classes as they filed around the model village table, the dinner display, and viewed a video of colonial life playing in the background. They saw the craft displays on the wall, and even viewed the full-scale model of the ubiquitous street lamp — a basket atop a pole which had to be lit and then extinguished every day.
The school’s commitment to hands-on education was evident Friday as the principal, the superintendent, and other adult staff visited the living museum. STARS, curtseying in the case of the girls, were pleased with their portrayal, and with the result of their efforts. In the hustle and bustle, the absorption of delving into a different time, it is easy to forget the initial goal — to improve reading skills.