Wells Elementary School Connects to the Underground Railroad

Post date: Apr 19, 2013 1:2:16 PM

For five weeks, 68 fourth grade students at Wells Elementary School immersed themselves in the study of the ‘Underground Railroad’, a network of routes and safe houses that helped bring African slaves from bondage to ‘free’ states and Canada prior to and during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

On March 22nd, these students and their teachers held an open house for parents and others to highlight what students had learned from their research.

Presented was a pretend television game show in the spirit of the old ‘To Tell the Truth’ program in which panelists had to question and then guess which one of three contestants was telling the truth about being the real Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist and ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad. There was also a student-created play about children of slave parents pondering their fate following the sale of their mother.

In addition, there were numerous wall displays including one consisting of diary entries written by students from the point-of-view of being a slave and another of drawings of quilt squares. Quilt square designs were very important in indicating which houses along the Underground Railroad were safe houses. One attending this event could also view a cotton and tobacco display plus a large wall diagram of how slaves had to sleep while on board ship headed for America. On another wall was a display of factoids about slave life. Two students went so far as to create a miniature safe house complete with furnishings.

According to Suzanne Laplante-Killoran of the STRETCH program and Ed Tech Mirna Davila, students learned a variety of information not only about life as a slave but life on the dangerous trip to freedom. For examples, students studied the typical slave diet, songs, and vocabulary plus the climate that slaves endured while working. They learned that slave fugitives, once embarked on the Underground Railroad, had to sleep during the day and travel at night with star constellations as their navigational guide.

Students also worked on persuasive writing assignments taking pro and anti-slavery positions in their arguments.

Staff members guiding students in this annual core reading unit project included Mirna Davila, Pam Lear, Michele Guerrette, and Suzanne Laplante-Killoran.

Caption: Amanda Ring and Isabella DeAngelis standing alongside a small cardboard replica of a safe house complete with furniture. It took these students less that a week to create the small safe house. According to DeAngelis, the house will possibly be given to the music department at WHS to become a prop in future music productions.

Caption: WES students demonstrating how Africans destined for slavery in America had to position themselves to sleep on board ship.

Caption: Katy Cafaro, Sydney McDermott, Hannah Tufts, Rhiannon McQuaide, and Mallory Aromando dressed like the two Grimké sisters famous in history for advocating early for the abolishment of slavery.

Caption: Participants in a To Tell the Truth-like production at WES. Standing at far right with a microphone is game show host Colby White. In the front row are the show’s panelists. They are from left to right Craig Chase, Molly Humphrey and Brandon Lucier. Sitting are Sydney McDermott (left) and Katy Cafaro who are dressed as the Grimké Sisters. In the back row (l to r) are three contestants claiming to be the real Harriet Tubman: Hannah Tufts, Rhiannon McQuaide, Mallory Aromando.