Song of the South plays educational tune

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

Donning straw hats and overalls, calico dresses and bonnets, students at Parmalee Elementary School showed off their projects looking at life in the Southern United States during the 1800s.

The students in Donna Sutherland’s fourth/fifth-grade gifted-and-talented class used everything from Powerpoint presentations to posters on Oct. 19 to explain to their peers about life during that era.

The presentations — along with a traditional Southern meal — were the culmination of a six-week unit on Mark Twain’s book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The students read the unabridged version of the classic novel that is set in the late 1800s in the Southern United States. They then had 10 days to create their presentations.

Sutherland said she gave the students a lot of leeway in determining what their projects would be. One student did a Podcast end-of-the-year news report about 1834. Another constructed a replica of a scene in the book where Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher are lost in a cave.

Fourth-grader Ben Furr-Johnson learned about President Abraham Lincoln and read aloud the Gettysburg Address.

Ben, dressed as Huckleberry Finn, told his classmates that Lincoln gave the address during the Civil War. Lincoln wanted all people to be equal and said slavery was unfair, according to Ben.

Ben said he chose that project because he has traveled with his familiy to the site where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.

“I think (Lincoln) had a pretty cool life,” he said.

Fifth-grader Kate Gessert told her classmates about the evolution of music during the 1800s through a scrapbook she put together. “Music was pretty uncreative during that time,” she said while wearing a long red dress. “People heard songs from church, and they heard the slaves sing. And there were a bunch of patriotic songs, too.”

She said she did the project because she really likes music.

Fifth-grader Payton Bennett created a newspaper called the Hannibal Daily Courier in which she put stories about her classmates and advertisements for products of the time.

She wrote about the state fair, high school baseball scores and current theatrical productions. Ads were for Cecil National Bank, Aiden Drug Store and Jaden’s Groceries, which had canned soup for 15 cents.

The big news of the day was the fund-raiser for the Home of the Friendless.

“I really like newspapers,” Payton said. “I put my friends’ names in it.”

Pam Villavicencio, a parent of a student in the class, was impressed with the projects.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to experience this particular time period,” Villavicencio said. “It was an exciting time in history. They can experience Southern culture in the time of Mark Twain.”

This project is a new one for teacher Sutherland, who has taught gifted-and-talented children for 12 years.

“For me, a typical project would be a research report, but if you ask for a report, you are not hitting each student’s learning style,” Sutherland said. “I get better projects from them when they buy into it. And these projects show what they know.”