By Stefanie Jackson – Two Pungoteague Elementary School teachers made history at their school when they started a successful club for one of their favorite subjects.
Principal Brian Patterson remembered his reaction when new teacher Alisha Gagliardi approached him last year about starting a history club with fellow teacher Bonnie Styer.
“Deep down, I’m thinking, ‘OK, this thing will not go over very well,’” but he told Gagliardi, “go ahead and have fun with it.”
In its first year, History Club had 18 members, and participation has nearly doubled this year, with 34 members.
“This thing has turned into the biggest club at this school. It is so popular,” Patterson said.
History Club is open to any Pungoteague third, fourth, and fifth graders, who meet once a week to have fun learning and acting out history.
Last year, the students learned about early history, from Neanderthals to world explorers. The kids were seen running around school, pretending to be cavemen discovering tools and hunting and gathering.
“You could see the joy on their faces. They were so excited,” Gagliardi said.
At the end of the school year, the club took a field trip to Montpelier, the historic plantation in Orange, Va., where fourth U.S. president James Madison resided nearly his entire life, except for his eight years at the White House from 1809 to 1817.
The students were accompanied by a James Madison interpreter from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, who portrayed Madison in period costume for the day and took photos with the kids.
This year, History Club will cover the early American colonial period to the Revolutionary War, and for its annual field trip, it will visit Monticello, third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson’s home, in Charlottesville, Va.
The kids will also meet and interact with a Thomas Jefferson interpreter from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Gagliardi and Styer have already chosen the historical eras the club will cover next year: America’s early national period and growing democracy.
The teachers instill in their students a love of history as the kids learn and work toward becoming good citizens.
Students must maintain good behavior in school to participate in the club, but there are no academic requirements.
The history club also sponsors projects and raises money to benefit the Pungoteague school community.
History Club projects have included sorting countries based on the time periods when they explored the Americas.
Club members have studied Native American and colonial artifacts and compared the governments, laws, appearance, and activities of the colonists and the Cherokees.
To prepare to lead the history club, Gagliardi and Styer attended the Library of Congress and Colonial Williamsburg teacher institutes this summer, and they use the organizations’ free learning resources.
They have also shown their students how to study history using primary sources. For example, the students have read Virginia Company documents to learn about the Jamestown settlement and court case transcripts to learn about slavery.
Gagliardi said the kids are “reading these hard documents, but they’re able to do it with a little bit of help, and it’s showed amazing growth in their reading ability.”