Fort Mill Times

History comes alive at Gold Hill Elementary

Ezekiel MacMillan, 10, gives onlookers an oral synopsis about the Navajo tribe as part of a U.S. history living museum at Gold Hill Elementary School.
Ezekiel MacMillan, 10, gives onlookers an oral synopsis about the Navajo tribe as part of a U.S. history living museum at Gold Hill Elementary School.

Amanda Brown became the Emancipation Proclamation and couldn't move. Neither could Casey Hillman or Zoe Cruz.

The Gold Hill Elementary School fourth graders couldn't budge until someone pushed a yellow button on their shoulder bringing to life their U.S. history living museum.Zoe Cruz's Harriet Tubman came to life last Wednesday."I was one of the most famous conductors of the Underground Railroad," she said as she stood by a mock tree that bore the sign, "Wanted dead or alive. Reward $45,000.""I freed over 300 slaves and made over 19 trips back and forth to the North and South. If people got tired, I carried them on my back. We had to keep going."Across the classroom, Casey Hillman as Clare Barton knelt by a mock soldier and pressed a fake bloodied strip of cloth to his chest."During the Civil War, my nickname was Angel of the Battlefield," 10-year-old Casey said to the person who pushed her button. "I helped many soldiers when they got wounded in the war."When Casey finished, she bent over her wounded soldier and pressed her hands atop his wound. Steps away, another student finished his history tidbit and politely added, "Thanks for pushing my button."The living wax museum held in multiple fourth grade classrooms was a way to incorporate a history lesson plan while encouraging student participation, Gold Hill Principal Terry Brewer said."It makes history come to life," Brewer said. "It actively engages students in learning."The innovative concept embraces long term learning as opposed to short term recognition wrought by cramming. The U.S. history living museum involved about 160 students from eight fourth grade classes, teacher Kati Merriman said."The wax museum is part of the kids' end of year review for the state level exam in social studies," she said. "They researched what their assignment looked like. They were able to see what their hairstyle or dress looked like, and they reproduced it so that they looked authentic."And the students nailed their roles, Merriman said."Dead on," she said. "They did a super job. I'm proud of them."Steps away, Amanda Brown, 10, breathed life into the Emancipation Proclamation."I represent the ending of slavery in the United States," Brown said to a waiting audience whose attention shifted to Kathryn Proctor's Gettysburg Address."I am important because I inspired the Union to keep fighting because ending slavery was worth fighting for," said Kathryn, 9.For Merriman, using a textbook in class to teach history is a rarity."We use singing, dancing," Merriman said. "The kids can present their own dramas."For 15-year-old Brionna Smith, the innovative history lesson was a good thing."It's more hands on," said Brionna, a student at Fort Mill High School. "They (the students) talk to you about it (history). It's a lot better than sitting in class reading a book."The event was of benefit for students and visitors alike, she said."It's good for the kids to understand what went on back then," Brionna said. "It helps them to not take for granted how unified our country is today."Leslie Fouche, whose son Liam portrayed William Lloyd Garrison, learned a state tidbit during the living history museum."I didn't realize that the original flag of South Carolina was red," Leslie Fouche said.Tucked in a corner, Nicholas Greek wore a black suit and a salt and pepper beard as he stood behind a pedestal as Frederick Douglass."I am best known for starting a newspaper called the 'North Star,'" Greek said. "I was trying to stop slavery by writing articles educating people on how terrible slavery was."Next, someone pushed a button bringing John Brown to life."I was best known for the raid on Harper's Ferry, Va.," Nicholas Gesselbauer said."I needed weapons, so I stole them. The effect that I had on American history was that I helped show that slavery needed to be resolved. I was hanged for treason."Several classes away, Ezekiel MacMillan sat atop a desk clad in Native American garb clutching a bow and arrow. Then some one pressed his button."I'm the Navajo tribe," he said. "We used leaves, brushwood and animal hides to make our homes, called logans."Courtney MacMillan looked on with pride as her Ezekiel finished his litany and drew back his arrow."It definitely gets the kids to focus," Courtney MacMillan said. "They had to research for their character. It was a learning experience for us as a family."