Seventh graders from Wright City Middle School visited the historic village in Innsbrook to learn about life in Missouri in the mid 1800s.
Ding ding, ding ding.
That was the sound of the handheld bell rung by Frau Witte inside the one-room school house at the Innsbrook historic village.
“School is starting,” she said to the four Wright City Middle School students who had just stepped into the building.
Frau Witte, better known as Madonna Laws, and Frau Jensen, better known as Alice Jensen, were dressed in period costume as they explained what life was like for kids back in the 1800s.
“They asked us to volunteer and it just sounded like fun,” Laws said during a brief break as a new busload of students made its way to the village. “Then we decided to get into costume and just try to get the kids thinking about what it was like. And it’s hard for me even to imagine what it would have been like to be back then.”
The two frauen introduced themselves to every group of students who entered the building and then asked if they recognized the language.
“German,” one middle school student said.
“The reason that I spoke German is that a lot of the immigrants in this area were from Germany,” Jensen told the kids.
The two instructors then walked the kids through a typical school day for kids in the 1840s and 1850s.
As they spoke, the students wrote down varying pieces of information that was part of the scavenger hunt that was designed by seventh grade ELA teacher David Schnell, middle school Assistant Principal Sara Meadows said.
“We always like to make our field trips very intentional,” she said.
The students were asked specific questions that were aligned to an English and language arts standard for seventh grade students.
“So they’re having to reflect and infer about different parts of today’s events,” Meadows said.
The field trip to the historic village put students on a four-stop circuit. Each of the more than 120 students who attended got to spend 10 minutes in the school house, the smokehouse, the log cabin, and the pavilion, learning something specific during each stop.
Such as in the log cabin, when students learned they’d have to sleep on the floor back in the mid-1800s. One student, upon hearing that news, had a look on her face that could only be described as a combination of shock and humor.
It helped the seventh graders be more appreciative of what they have today.
“They didn’t have lights or electricity or things like that,” seventh grader Allison Ridgeway said. “That’s why I try to stay off my phone and I just try to go outside and play and act like I lived back then.”
Ridgeway said she thought she could have lived back in that time period.
“I think it would be really cool, even though it’s a lot of work.”
Her classmate, Frankie Zykan, wasn’t so sure he could have lived back then, though.
“I’m used to how everything is today because it’s a lot different,” Zykan said.
But the day did give him perspective on why life is easier today.
“If we didn’t have what we had today and we had to do what we did back then, it would just be a lot different,” he said.
Those were the kind of perspectives that the field trip was designed to induce.
“The look on their faces the minute that they set foot into the old school house and they realized, ‘wow, this is what life was like ‘was incredible,” Meadows, the assistant middle school principal, said. “It was just mind-blowing for students walking into the old log cabin where they had a day in the life of a child who would have been on the homestead. It was just so impactful and they’re able to reflect on their day-to-day lives versus the time back then.”
That reflection was an important part of why the Innsbrook Historical Society worked so hard to get the students to the village.
“I think the kids are really sparking to the idea,” Historical Society President David Boeckmann said. “They’re asking important and meaningful questions. It’s obvious that in the world that we live in and the fast pace that we live in, and with all the cellphones and with all the beepers and all the technology that they’re faced with, this is an opportunity to step back away from that for just a few hours and see what it might have been like.”
He hoped the experience stuck with the students as they boarded the bus and returned to the middle school.
“I would hope that when they go home from school today that they share with their parents that they had a unique learning experience, that it was something so different from what they expected,” Boeckmann said. “This is just another opportunity for them to see something just a little different.”
Back in the school house, the two frauen said they could certainly see the interest and the excitement in the kids.
“They’ve been really good,” Jensen said. “Most of them, if you prod them a little, they’ll respond.”
“The teacher said that a lot of the students that have been responding here are students who don’t normally do that in a regular classroom,” Laws said.
“Yeah, that’s really nice,” Jensen said.
As the two frauen were finishing their presentation, just outside the schoolhouse door the farm bell rang. That was the signal that it was time for each group of students to move to the next location in the circuit.
“That’s the end of your school day, a very fast school day,” Frau Jensen said. “Auf Wiedersehen!”
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at firstname.lastname@example.org