PLATTSBURGH — On Sunday, children and adults can learn oodles about the Battle of Plattsburgh and burn calories, too, on the “Story Walk” during the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration.
“The Battle of Plattsburgh Did You Know?” was published last year and written and illustrated by Cumberland Head Elementary School’s fourth-grade students.
The illustrations and text can be viewed in windows of local businesses starting at the North Country Co-op on Bridge Street and rounding the corner to Mountain Riders on City Hall Place.
“It explains the history of the Battle of Plattsburgh in words that children can understand,” said Linda Ward, fair chair. “It’s mostly pictorial, and all the pictures were done by the children.”
At the Children’s Village Fair, along City Hall Place, children can pick up a small passport at the Story Tent.
“Then, they go and read all the panels in the windows, return to the Story Tent and answer a simple question about what they saw in the windows,” Ward said. “They will be rewarded with a prize. The real prize is (that) they’re understanding what their history is about.”
Shannon Piche-Smith, a former Cumberland Head Elementary School teacher, and Bucky Seiden, a local artist and retired teacher, coordinated the book project.
“They got the grant to print the book, but because the cost was prohibitive, the children and the public (weren’t) aware of this delightful and important little book,” Ward said. “It’s an important book for children, in our community, in the North Country. The goal this year is to find funding to have the book reprinted and have it available for schools and the public.”
Last year, more than 50 people signed up to receive the book, which wasn’t available.
Piche-Smith and Seiden previously worked together on other grant projects at the school.
“We applied for a grant through the New York State Arts and Education Grant,” Piche-Smith said. “They’re called Local Capacity Building Grants. The grant is designed to bring local artists into classrooms and work with kids. We wrote it, applied for it and received it. In the fourth-grade elementary-school curriculum, they do local history. So, we felt it appropriate to incorporate the Battle of Plattsburgh in a book that could be used in the classroom. It’s a book for kids by kids.”
The project was executed in the art classroom, though Piche-Smith and Seiden collaborated with other teachers.
“I saw them (students) once every five days,” Piche-Smith said. “It took up a huge chunk of my curriculum, but it was great.”
“The best part is that it’s an authentic task for the kids,” Seiden said. “Instead of just hearing a story or reading it in a history book, they actually did the research themselves in the various areas we selected. They made a poster from their research. They just did an awesome job. They had to, of course, write some text. They had basic information they had to research for each area they were doing.”
The book features photographs of the students dressed in period costumes borrowed from the North Country Teacher Resource Center at Plattsburgh State.
“They had the jackets, heavy woolen clothes and really rough fabrics,” Seiden said. “They got a chance to see what the clothing was like, and they wore them. They each picked out something to wear that went with something they wrote.”
The students were thrilled to be a “Red Coat” or a “Blue Coat.”
“The materials back then were so different,” Seiden said. “That alone was an experience for them. They looked so cute, these little colonials. It was another opportunity for them to really experience what it was like in those days. It was hot that time of year when we were doing it. It was hot in those kinds of clothes. It makes it more real for the kids. It’s hard to imagine wearing a heavy, wool coat if you’ve never been in one on an 80-degree day. It’s real, live history for the kids. How better does it get than that … making it real?”
Guest speakers Stan Ransom (the “Connecticut Peddler”) and Plattsburgh City Clerk Keith Herkalo imparted their knowledge of the Sept. 11, 1814, battle to the students.
The students were broken up into four groups, one for each classroom. Each group was assigned a topic: famous people, the land battle, the naval battle and ships.
“Within each of those quadrants, we paired up students,” Piche-Smith said. “For example, all the kids in one classroom all worked on ships. Each pair was given a topic. They had to research the topic and create an original watercolor to represent the facts. They had to find facts. The book is based on facts.”
Topics researched include Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb, Cmdr. Thomas Macdonough and Cmdr. George Downie.
Students who researched Macdonough shared this fact: “He studied the wind and currents of Lake Champlain and anchored in Plattsburgh Bay the morning of the battle, giving him the advantage.”
Piche-Smith said the project was a lot of fun.
“It was amazing,” she said. “These kids, I just can’t tell you how they exceeded every expectation we had of them. They were so awesome. There is no information for fourth-grade students on the Battle of Plattsburgh. It’s very difficult to find. A typical fourth-grade kid can’t just go on the Internet and find stuff. It’s not written for their reading level. This particular book is written for kids at that reading level. Our goal is to get into every fourth-grade classroom in New York. That’s a big goal.”
Children’s Old Time Village Fair events also include 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. performances of “Musical Menagerie” and “Girls and Boys of Old 1812” by Tom Hooker Hanford of Goshen, Conn.
Rain or shine, all the events are inside tents around the Macdonough Monument or along City Hall Place.
Email Robin Caudell:
firstname.lastname@example.orgIF YOU GO ▶ WHAT: "Story Walk." ▶ WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. ▶ WHERE: Bridge Street and City Hall Place in Plattsburgh.