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Woodway Students Hunt for History

by Devin Etzold, Baylor University Intern

Fourth grade students at Woodway Elementary were transported to a real life history lesson that brought to life the backstory of the First Street Cemetery.

The expedition turned students into “History Hunters” who were responsible for conducting an investigation of the oldest public cemetery in Waco–the First Street Cemetery. The production of the history lesson involved dramatic monologues, costumes, mapping, guest speakers, scavenger hunts, tombstone rubbings, photography and the collection of primary source historical data.

The burial of the dead is a uniquely human social function. Thus, cemeteries are valuable and informative places for students to discover clues and make inferences about the cultural history of the community in which they live. Students were immersed in a highly engaging learning experience for their first History Hunters tour. They set out to accumulate information about individuals buried at the cemetery and identify evidence of great social upheavals such as war, epidemics, and disasters. The information collected will be used to calculate and graph statistical data, write hypothetical stories, and create digital collages.

The field trip incorporated a variety of theatre, visual arts, language arts, social studies and mathematics essential knowledge and skills. Students took on roles and responsibilities of investigators, photographers and performers.  During preparation for the tour, students used character studies prepared by the Mayborn Museum staff and Baylor Theatre Department to create monologues representing different historical figures who are buried in the cemetery. The students created a theatrical portrait for their character involving costumes, emotions, actions and sounds. Students were able to go around and “visit” the gravestones of these characters and be guided through the individual’s life story by the student who was portraying the buried individual.

The Midway ISD Education Foundation funded the History Hunters’ First Street Cemetery Tour as a grant to Art Teacher Sarah McCormick and Music Teacher Natalie Daniel in Spring 2011.