King Cluck Middle schoolers study mummies, create their own

Sunday, November 28, 2004

BLUE ISLAND, Ill. -- The mighty Egyptian monarch King Cluck was buried with great fanfare recently in the front lawn of Kerr Middle School.

About 40 mourners wailed as the "pharaoh" and his favorite pets, games and foods were readied to enter the afterlife.

"You're way too into this," one sixth-grader told a friend who was affecting dramatic, grief-stricken sobs.

The deceased, after all, was a Cornish hen.

The burial ceremony was among three that marked the end of the students' study of ancient Egyptian civilization.

Sixth-grade teachers, several school staff members and Blue Island School District 130 superintendent Michael Korsak dressed in replica Egyptian garb to portray important figures in the ceremony, and to create an authentic feel.

During the previous six weeks, the students had been learning about Egyptian religion and mythology, mathematics, music, clothing, hieroglyphics and burial practices through hands-on experiences.

For 12-year-old Heidi Burgess and Jessica Oliver, 11, the hands-on part of the project was a bit "icky."

"It was smelly," Jessica said of the Cornish hen her class had to mummify.

"And it was really slimy at first," Heidi added.

Students spent six weeks preparing eight "pharaohs" for burial, wrapping and spicing the birds to preserve them.

"We had to put salt on it so it would dry out," Heidi said.

The hens were kept in plastic freezer bags, and the salt was changed each week, sixth-grade teacher Sandy Hock said. Before burial, the bodies were washed and wrapped in linen, and then placed into small sarcophagi.

The tombs will be opened in the spring so the students can see how well the bodies were preserved, organizer Patricia Antonsen said.

This was the third year the school has taught the Egyptian unit, which teachers incorporate into their regular classes.

Tunic-clad math teacher Richard Canan showed his students how Egyptians used symbols to represent various amounts.

Canan pointed to an image of a coiled rope representing the number 100 and a flower standing for 1,000.

"Aren't these powers of 10?" he asked the students. "What do you think the next symbols would represent?"

Corey Evans, 11, quickly answered: "Ten thousand and 100,000."

Language arts teacher Crystal Wallner said her section focused on writing skills, calling on students to pen clever eulogies for the dead fowl.

"We are looking for humor and puns," Wallner said. "We want them to think like a chicken."

Kendra Hoffman, 11, demonstrated Wallner's criteria when she read remarks about King Cluck.

"He was a family chicken who built egg-stravagant pyramids," Kendra said.

Decked out in a black robe, a black braided wig and an asp-shaped tiara, Wallner led students on funeral processions through the school hallways. She admitted the students weren't the only ones who enjoyed the learning experience.

"The teachers have fun with this, too," Wallner said.

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