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Dutcher students bring Civil War history to life
Jeff Matthews of the Civil War Day cavalry station demonstrates the use and care of horses during the American Civil War. - photo by CANDY PADILLA/The Journal

History is not just what is written in books; it is lived everyday and for local middle school students, sometimes relived. Dutcher Middle School eighth grade students dove head first into an interactive approach to the Civil War period on Wednesday by dressing in period clothing and reenacting daily activities of late 19th century America.

Dutcher’s annual Civil War Day is anticipated each year as a time for students to escape the confines of the classroom and experience history in a unique way.  Eighth grade history and English teacher Amy Olguin established a relationship with Presenters of Living History, the company that hosted eight Civil War period presenters and activities, four years ago when the annual trip to Mariposa for a Civil War reenactment became too expensive. The on campus Civil War program now provides students a more expansive historical experience as they spend the day rotating between eight stations that cover all facets of Civil War era life, from square dancing to the cavalry.

"It is something that the students know they will get to experience as eighth graders and they look forward to it every year. It's neat to have taught them in the classroom and then have them go to different settings and make connections from the book to real life. They have internalized the information and can take it to the next level," said Olguin.

Using a mix of games and educational information, the Civil War period presenters at each station do more than speak about general Civil War themes as they educate students about the nuanced aspects of daily life in 1860s America. Students wove baskets and made poppets, or 19th century rag dolls, learned Civil War period science and spying techniques, witnessed marching drills, played rounders, which is a game similar to baseball, square danced and participated in a relay race that recreates the role of the triage on the battle field.

“The day was fun and interactive. It was very busy and better than being stuck in a classroom," said Dutcher eighth-grader Renee O’Connor. 

More than 340 students participated in the annual Civil War Day event, half of which dressed up with girls in hoop skirts and bonnets and boys in uniform. While the eighth graders’ Civil War experience may not live on in history books like the war between the Union and Confederacy, the experience was a memorable one for eighth grade students of all backgrounds.

"The joy we get is that even the kids who maybe don’t do as well in the classroom setting are suddenly flourishing under what we do, and that is the goal. Suddenly they realize that history is not just what's in a boring book and seeing that little light go off is what we live for," said Patrick Franz, president of Presenters of Living History.