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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
A section of the gymnasium at Ketchikan Charter School went back in time more than a thousand years on Friday while fourth-grade students brought their medieval Europe class unit to life.
Although in its 10th year, the Middle Ages feast — as students call the celebration — is much more than a feast. It’s a culmination of more than a month of studying the Middle Ages with their fourth-grade teacher, Danielle Hewitt.
“We’ve been hitting the books so incredibly hard, because it’s an intense unit,” Hewitt said. “I decided we needed something to end this unit — and for me to tell them how proud I was of them.
“We start with the fall of Rome, and go all the way until the end of the plague, so basically starting at the period of the Renaissance,” she added. “We studied Joan of Arc, Charlemagne, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, (and) all of the important kings during the period.”
The Middle Ages feast started as just a time to relax and enjoy food, but then in following years, the students began studying heraldry and coats of arms, and started creating shields. The celebration is now an all-encompassing medieval event with new activities added every year.
On Friday, students told medieval stories and ate authentic food from the time period — while they sat in tents surrounded by tapestries, fur coats and colorful shields that hung by a rope from the ceiling. Hewitt said the shields are authentic — meaning there’s not a color on them that doesn’t mean something to the students personally.
Fourth-graders Reuben Parrott and Amelia Boor can attest to that. Parrott’s shield has a blue background with checkers and some purple thrown in the mix — all of which means something to him.
A small description glued to the back of their shields can explain what the colors stand for, but Parrott took the time to talk to the Daily News while the grape juice, resembling wine, and the root beer, resembling beer, flowed into his friends’ cups around him.
“The purple represents the first son, because I was the first before my brother,” Parrott explained. “Then the checkers represents strength and loyalty. Purple represents also strength and loyalty, and then the blue represents love and compassion.”
Boor’s shield is much different, having a yellow cross on it and a red patch at the top.
“The red at the top means I’m the first born daughter or son, and, since women didn’t go to war, I put that on because I was the first daughter,” Boor said. “I put the cross on there because I’m Christian, and I helped King Richard fight in the Crusades.”
Hanging on the wall next to their shields is a large medieval backdrop painting done by KCS art teacher Holli Kenoyer, and nearby is a stained glass piece made by Kenoyer and several students a few years ago. On it are characters the students have studied, such as Thomas Becket — who was archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170.
Other decorations include a scaled-down embroidery piece with images from the Bayeux Tapestry — a 270-yard-long tapestry that nuns created to commemorate a struggle for the throne of England between William, the Duke of Normandy, and Harold, the Earl of Wessex.
Hewitt used an overhead projector to trace images from the tapestry, and this year, the stitching “was so perfect” that they didn’t even paint the project — which was hanging in the two tents that had long tables set up for a feast.
“We tried to put together as close as we can, an authentic feast — rustic breads, there’s going to be no chocolate here, fancy iced cakes, lots of vegetables, cheese,” Hewitt explained. “We’ve talked about ways to preserve food — we actually made homemade butter in class the other day. We made homemade jerky, we have dehydrated different kinds of fruits and we have pickled things all in our classroom this year to talk about food preservation.”
The students also churned butter at the feast to show their visitors how it’s done. They also talked about spices, and of course, they ate — while sounds from the Middle Ages rang throughout the auditorium, thanks to KCS music teacher Julie Cron. Cron researched music from the time period to be played on drums and recorders.
Although quite a celebratory event, the students kept in mind the many medieval characters that they spent almost two months learning about — like Charlemagne, the former King of the Franks.
“The kids know all about them,” Hewitt said, “they can sit and talk for 10 minutes about Charlemagne.”
Apparently, they can also do the same about Joan of Arc — a French national heroine who was canonised in 1920, and both Parrott and Boor’s favorite medieval character to learn about.
“It was pretty interesting that no woman had rights, and then she just was like ‘I have rights,’” he said. “Men were in charge of all the land, women didn’t really have rights. She was just breaking all of the rules.”
“Because she was wearing a man’s suit of armor,” Boor chimed in.
“She was leading an army into battle, which usually (women in the past) just (stayed) at home and took care of the children,” Parrott added.
“When she tried to help the next person in line to be king, he betrayed her, and the people who captured her, they burned her,” Boor explained. “Before they burned her, they took her to trial and they wrapped her on a pole and they questioned her all the time.
“It was very hard for them to get something on her,” Boor continued, “to where they can burn her, but since she was so truthful, they just lied and said ‘Burn her anyways.’ She only became famous after she died.”
Parrott said the event shows the students that learning can be fun, and Boor added it gives the students an idea of what it was like to live — and feast — in the Middle Ages.
“It’s not exactly like it,” Parrott said, “but it’s as close as we can do.”