The Battle of Gettysburg reenactment is a fifth-grade tradition, dating back decades. But this year, the reenactment is no more, part of a number of sweeping changes enacted by new fifth-grade teachers Amy Velder and Jane Gillette.
Previously, fifth graders would march in formation to Oak Meadow Park near the school and reenact the Battle at Gettysburg. After the battle, students ate a period lunch provided by their parents. The preparations for the reenactment lasted several months, and included a project about a famous person or battle in the war.
“I wanted to broaden the study of the Civil War from just that one aspect (The Battle of Gettysburg) and make it more well rounded,” said Velder.
High-school students who participated in the reenactment in fifth grade have mixed feelings about the change.
“I remember loving pretending to die,” said sophomore Aidan Galati. “You could lay on the ground and act like you were dead, and the nurses would come and get you and squirt fake blood on you.”
But sophomore Adam Ketchum disliked the reenactment and is happy that the tradition is changing this year.
“I got left on the field ‘dead’,” he said.
Velder said that the reenactment was controversial because of the amount of violence in America today and the wars the country has been involved in for the last decade.
In place of the reenactment, students will instead write five-paragraph essays about a famous military figure in the war and live as that person for a day during a field trip to Angel Island. Separately students will form research groups and discuss a game-changing event in the Civil War, write, direct and produce one-act historical fiction productions using their research, and present those productions to their parents at the end of the school year.
The living history field trip on April 11 to Angel Island will be a Country Day first. Velder has been working intensively with the Parks and Recreation department of the Angel Island State Park department.
During the field trip, students will learn how to pack period knapsacks, march and drill; learn how weapons work; hold weapons; cook on open fires; and write letters as their characters. Students will also see artifacts relating to the Civil War. For example, old-fashioned roller skates, invented during the Civil War, will be on display.
Another new project that students will complete in place of the Battle of Gettysburg reenactment is the production of one-act skits about a person or invention their research group deems a game changer.
These performances will be written, directed and produced by the students. However, a professional filming and makeup crew will be brought in to assist them during filming. Sets will be built for the filming process, and all students will participate in their own group productions.
A screening date for the productions has been set for May 22. The screening will be outdoors under the live auction tent with a dinner for the parents.
Velder said that the changes were considered before her arrival, but that her new position made the switch easier.
“Jane and I were a nice vehicle to make the transition because we are both new teachers to the grade,” Velder said.
Velders, who lived in the Midwest, said that reenactments of the Civil War do not typically take place there due to the geographical proximity of the war.
“A lot of families have artifacts or relatives that they can trace back to the Civil War,” she said. “It is not something that you joke about.”