Students replicate historic homes

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Students of Katy Tarbutton and Cindy Warren at Central Elementary School in Dexter, Mo., have been busy studying Missouri history as part of the school's curriculum. Within that curriculum, the children learn about the oldest settlement in the state, Ste. Genevieve.

Located only about two hours from Dexter, St. Genevieve was established around 1722 as the first permanent European settlement in Missouri. It was founded as a trading outpost and later settled by lead miners, farmers and fur traders. It is the city's French Creole wooden homes that immediately identify the community's founding fathers. And it is those structures in particular that have been a point of interest among Central Elementary's fourth grade students.

"The students first learned about how Ste. Genevieve was settled, and they learned all about the French influence in the town," Tarbutton said. "And then they were given the opportunity to build a home of their own, similar in character to those typically found in the early days of St. Gen."

"Most of these students have had the opportunities to construct log houses before, even in play, and so we chose to do something a little different this year and go with the French-built homes."

With many of the historic homes still on display in Ste. Genevieve, some parents took weekend drives recently to view some of the historic sites in the area before undergoing the project, taking photographs and then returning home to duplicate the images.

"The response for this project has been just phenomenal," Warren said. "We have just been amazed at the quality of these projects."

The 8 and 9 year olds were given suggestions for materials to construct their homes, but the material purchases were up to the students. Although the projects were optional, in Tarbutton's classroom every one of her 21 students brought in a project. Only two in Warren's classroom did not take part in the assignment, which they emphasized was not a competition.

"Students were just asked to do their best and while parents in most cases had some part in the construction, the houses were almost entirely put together by the students themselves."

When the homes were delivered to school, either through a careful ride on a school bus or by extra cautious parents, the teachers said they could see these fourth graders had thoroughly enjoyed their assignment. Some used Popsicle sticks. Others found craft sticks at a local department store. Some used wooden dowels to support front porches, while others made use of matchstick-sized twigs and some Elmer's glue. Many of the roofs were painted cardboard, but others consisted of meticulously folded contact paper with a "shingle" look, particle board, pine or plastic. Several were topped with Easter grass. Others carefully glued strands of raffia into place. One specimen was topped with corn flakes.

The homes were intricately painted. Some had cutout front doors. Others had cardboard shutters and painted-on window panes. There were tiny cutouts of cardboard family members on one porch and a real pebble stone walkway leading to the door of one home. Another used small smooth rocks in constructing a full outside chimney on the side of their two-story home. A matching stone fireplace rose from the hand-painted roof.

Wide smiles on the faces of each student as they proudly displayed their projects told the story. One lesson might have been taught, but many more were learned.

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