Stephen F. Austin State University

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SFA elementary education students re-enact early 1900s' life, historic figures for area school children during interactive Pioneer Days

April 21, 2016 - University Marketing Communications
Stephen F. Austin State University junior Sarah Hutchins makes history come to life as she portrays Sam Houston in a living wax museum at Millard's Crossing Historic Village. This activity is part of an interactive field trip known as Pioneer Days, which is hosted by SFA, area schools and Millard's Crossing Historic Village.
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - With the ringing of a bell, Sam Houston, played by Stephen F. Austin State University junior Sarah Hutchins, comes to life in a living wax museum at Millard's Crossing Historic Village in Nacogdoches. As a group of third-grade students gathers around her, Hutchins, dressed in a fringe jacket and black hat, reflects to the early 1900s while sharing Sam Houston's story.

"He did a lot in his day. He lived with the Cherokees and had a very good relationship with them. He was a politician in Texas and Tennessee and a war hero in both states," Hutchins explained to an attentive group of students. "He made Texas what it is today, and he was like the George Washington of Texas."

For more than 20 years, SFA, area schools and Millard's Crossing Historic Village have worked together to bring the past to life in an interactive field trip known as Pioneer Days. Roz Couch, assistant director for Millard's Crossing Historic Village, said the collaboration is wonderful.

"Part of our mission at Milliard's Crossing is to connect the generations. I think it's important for children to learn that people who lived in the old days weren't that different than we are now. They still had to eat, wash their clothes, do chores and go to school," Couch said. "I think it's wonderful for students to find out where they came from so they can appreciate the hard work and struggles their ancestors had and appreciate all the benefits and advantages they have in the 21st century."

During the event, SFA elementary education students interact with third graders though a variety of experiential learning activities, such as the living wax museum.

"It's really neat interacting with the children," Hutchins said. "It's fun to put the students in the context of this time and have them enjoy a period they are probably unfamiliar with."

In the living wax museum tour, students walk through the Millard-Lee House, which dates to 1837, and engage in conversations with various characters such as Anna Raguet and Lera Millard Thomas. Students learn about each person's contributions to the city, state and nation.

"First, we looked at curriculum for third grade, and then we figured out what we wanted the students to take away from their experience," said Emma Avery, SFA senior elementary education major who portrayed Lera Millard Thomas. "It's really fun to see the students get excited when they ring the bell and we come to life."

Additional activities for participants included attending school in a one-room schoolhouse, hand washing clothes, playing pioneer games, plowing a garden, making toys from corncobs and feathers, and more. At each station, SFA students were dressed in traditional pioneer clothing and discussed aspects of life in the early 1900s.

Event coordinator and organizer Dr. Vicki Thomas, assistant professor of elementary education at SFA, said this event serves a dual purpose. It provides SFA students a platform to practice skills and methods learned in class while also educating area children about Texas history.

"Some of our best practices as teachers are using role playing and experiential learning. Hands-on activities like ones used during Pioneer Days really make concepts and lessons concrete for both our teacher candidates and for our area third graders," Thomas said.

To prepare for this event, approximately 50 SFA students in Thomas' classes researched the history of Millard's Crossing, life in the early 1900s and influential people from the time period. Students also prepared lesson plans in line with the Texas Education Agency's essential knowledge and skills standards. Through performance-based activities, SFA students practiced lesson planning and managing groups of students.

The April 19 and 21 event served approximately 300 third graders from various schools in Nacogdoches County.