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Living lessons bring history to life at Belleview Elementary

Fifth-grade students at Belleview Elementary stepped back in the past and out on the street - figuratively speaking - during their social studies classes last month. “Living lessons” helped them strengthen their understanding of important events like the Revolutionary War and vital documents like the U.S. Constitution.

For example, during a unit on early American history, special guest Veronica Elliott, who is a living history educator, transformed a classroom into a Continental Army camp, complete with a surgeon’s tent. Students became soldiers, donning tri-cornered hats and learning about the conditions the patriots faced and what it was like to live on jerky and hardtack for weeks on end. They learned how injuries were treated in the field and bandaged their own wounds with gauze and natural remedies that were common in the late 1700s. Finally, they wrote letters home with pencil stubs on scraps of paper.

"It's one thing to learn about great events in American history through reading and classroom activities, but actually experiencing the struggle of fighting the Revolutionary War through living history raises understanding and appreciation to a whole new, and much higher, level,” said fifth-grade teacher Greg Torrance. “The actual sights, sounds and smells of the Revolutionary War will remain firmly entrenched in our students’ minds long after pencil-and-paper activities have, like old soldiers, faded away.  American history cannot be known and understood until it is felt, and living history is a powerful way to bring understanding to life."

Meanwhile, in a classroom across the hall, other fifth-graders were learning about the U.S. Constitution and how a document written in 1787 affects their lives today. Their teachers for the day were Belleview’s school resource officers, Officer Anjanette Osborne and Officer Rodney Valenzuela, from the Greenwood Village Police Department.

They talked with the students about our nation’s Founding Fathers and what they hoped to accomplish with the Constitution. They also covered the Bill of Rights – the first 10 amendments to the Constitution – with particular emphasis on the first amendment, which protects freedom of religion, speech, the press and the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and the fourth amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure.

“I liked how they introduced us to the amendments and how they helped us understand them,” student Annabelle Burns said. “I liked how they made it fun.”

The officers used examples the fifth-graders could relate to - a hypothetical case of a teenager allegedly shoplifting a candy bar and whether officers could legally search the student’s locker, car or home, with or without a search warrant.

“I thought it was fun and I liked the part about the search warrant and the fourth amendment,” student Josh Guthrie said.

Andy McKean, founder of the Liberty Day Institute, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating all Americans about the Constitution - especially the next generation - also participated, making sure every student had their own pocket copy of the Constitution.

Posted 4/8/2015 9:26 AM

"The actual sights, sounds and smells of the Revolutionary War will remain firmly entrenched in our students’ minds long after pencil-and-paper activities have, like old soldiers, faded away.  American history cannot be known and understood until it is felt, and living history is a powerful way to bring understanding to life."

- Greg Torrance, Fifth-grade Teacher

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