For sixth-graders at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, the encounter between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag just got real.
The students of language arts teacher Susannah Remillard are using the sketches of Samuel De Champlain, the letters of Gov. William Bradford and interviews with Wampanoag employees of Plimoth Plantation to re-create Southeastern Massachusetts, circa 1600s. What they are finding is a far more complex story than the traditional celebration of the Pilgrim landing, one that is edged by an elegy for the Wampanoag lives lost to disease in the years immediately preceding the Mayflower’s arrival and for the hardships faced by the new settlers.
“This story is already taught in schools,” Remillard said. She said what she wanted to do as a middle school teacher is add more depth and breadth in a developmentally appropriate manner. Today’s educational standards place more of an emphasis on expository writing, Remillard said. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, “This is my nonfiction piece.”
Each student was assigned a historical personality — English or Wampanoag — and wrote an illustrated poem based on their research. “In the third grade, we just learned a lot about the Mayflower,” said student Samantha Van de Graaf. Now the students are learning how the Pilgrims adapted to the land, she said.
Lessons in earlier grades were “a little bit sugarcoated,” said sixth-grader Lily Pierce. Now students are learning about the darker side of history, such as the role disease played in opening up English settlement. Students learned from interviewing “Pilgrims” at Plimoth Plantation earlier this month and talking to Wampanoag people engaged in work at the plantation’s Wampanoag homesite, Remillard said.
As tribal members roasted quail around the fire, students asked, “What happened to Metcom? What do you feel about Massasoit and his role in negotiating with the English?” said Remillard, a 13th-generation Cape Codder who took part in a National Endowment for the Humanities summer course on Native Americans of New England.