When Jodi Delaney’s fourth- and fifth-grade Montessori students showed up to class earlier this week at Broadwater Elementary, they found a sign on the classroom door saying that the room had been foreclosed on.
Delaney explained the fictional situation to her students that the bank had foreclosed on her classroom, and the students would need to figure out somewhere else to learn.
After some thought and discussion the students scattered and began reading the “hobo symbols” Delaney had taped around the building until one came upon a symbol that showed it was a good place to set up camp.
The whole scenario was a way for Delaney to show her students what it was like for people living during the Great Depression, instead of just regurgitating information or making them fill out worksheets.
“I can tell them the information directly … but instead we did this," she said, suggesting that the students appeared to be learning the material quickly.
Delaney said she incorporates “simulations” into her class when she can to get students engaged in the time period and make what may otherwise seem like ancient history come to life.
She even had students construct a “Hooverville” of sorts on Broadwater’s front lawn with sheets, twine and clothespins. For food, the students peeled potatoes that Delaney was planning to cook over her hot plate.
Tuesday’s mixture of rain and snow made the simulation a little too real, and as more drips started falling through the sheets Delaney brought the class back inside where they huddled up in the hallway.
So what is it like living during the Great Depression?
“It’s really horrible, and it’s really unpleasant,” said fourth grade student Zach Heller, who had only spent part of one morning living outside in the re-created shantytown.
“You don’t have a home, it’s cold,” he explained, adding that sometimes you have to eat raw potatoes.
The students didn't have to actually eat any raw potatoes, however, indulging in hot lunch from the school cafeteria instead.
Through the rest of the week, Delaney said, she planned to continue the scenario with students putting on burlap sacks and “begging” teachers around the school for work or food. Some teachers assign jobs, like cleaning up the school’s yard.
Through it all, Delaney jumps at opportunities to explain historical realities. Like in the morning when the classroom had been foreclosed on, Delaney taught her students about the stock market crash and the resulting mayhem that led to high rates of homelessness.
By the end of the week her class was working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, which led to Delany discussing President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration.
Now that the week is over, she’ll move on to the next stage in history, and eventually the class will get to play out a new simulation.
“They really do like these; they look forward to them,” Delaney said.
“They get to explore with their imagination,” she said.