Classroom of the Week | The young 'Renaissance' women and men of Hoosac Valley


CHESHIRE — The eighth-grade class at Hoosac Valley Middle & High School has proven that it can take a page from their lesson books and run with it. For their use of skills, creativity and team work, we've decided to nominate them as a Classroom of the Week.

This year, the team of teachers have been working to create unique experiences for the youngest students in the high school to be able to showcase their knowledge and talents and stand out as a group.

Back in fall, social studies teacher Lynn Waltermire invited students to celebrate history and literature by presenting tableaus — non-moving theatrical scenes — depicting everything from "Romeo and Juliet" to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." The entire school was then invited to walk through the display of tableaus to learn more about the stories and their time periods.

Later this spring, Mindy Chapman will help guide her students through science projects that will be exhibited in a fair at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

This week, English language arts teacher Molly Meczywor combined lessons with her colleague's field, asking students to extend their reading of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" into research on The Renaissance era. In addition to writing a paper, the classes were asked to come up with an idea to showcase what they've learned.

"The kids came up with a Renaissance fair," said Meczywor.

Having these "celebratory" events is "something that can bridge the class together and demonstrate their skills," the English teacher said.

Earlier this week, students met among themselves to work independently or in groups of up to four people to expand their research into a tri-fold board display and to create an interactive component for Thursday night's culminating fair. We met up with them while they were preparing.

Eighth-grade students Paige Dufur and Alexis LaDouceur stood up to be the emcees of the evening, which also concluded with an award ceremony to honor the mid-year accomplishments of some of their classmates.

Asked what they thought people could learn from visiting the fair, LaDouceur said, "I hope they can see the progress of humanity. Back then, only a small percentage of people had all the wealth. I hope this helps them see why things are they way they are, between then and now, and gives them a hands-on experience."

LaDouceur and Dufur also worked separately with others to work on their own projects, on crime and punishment, and Renaissance medicine, respectively. For her interactive component, Dufur created flashcards. "People have to match the symptom with the disease," she said. And during that time frame, poxes, plagues and poor living conditions were rampant.

On the lighter side of the Renaissance, several groups chose to highlight the food of the period, for better or for worse.

On Wednesday, Alena Rehill, Bryanna Costine, Abigael McAllister and Jen Prokopowicz got together to review two recipes they were planning to prepare — poundcake and "mush." Asked how they planned to get people to try the latter, Prokopowicz said, "If people want to know how people lived then, they're just going to have to try it."

At an adjacent set of desks, Nick Walsh, Jake Mucci and Ryan Czupryna were also working on a Renaissance food project. They, too, were making a historic recipe, this one of gingerbread shaped into balls. The recipe is a bit different from the soft cake-like gingerbread loaves and crisp cookies we know today. The Renaissance recipe calls for breadcrumbs, honey and ginger.

"It sort of looked like oatmeal," said Walsh.

"It looked iffy," Mucci said. "So we covered it in cinnamon and sugar and hoped for the best."

Czupryna said he liked both reading "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and getting to work on a project. "It's pretty fun," he said.

Meczywor said that she and her fellow eighth-grade teachers hope that these opportunities for their students "are giving them ownership over the work that they do."

For her project, Kyrsten Gazaille-Adams worked with two students from another ELA section, Mackenzie Lesnick and Adele Bradley. "We brainstormed on our own and shared our ideas after school," Gazaille-Adams said.

The students decided to focus on inventions of the era, and split the project tasks among themselves, from designing the board, to researching to presenting. To accomplish this, they also had to make additional time to work outside of the classroom. "If it was just in class, we would never be able to get this done," Gazaille-Adams told The Eagle while simultaneously penciling in a border outline for her group's display board.

"I like that this is not just about reading a book. It's group work and we're working with other kids from other classes, and getting to use our creativity," she said.


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