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E. Russell Hicks Middle School students make films of the Battle of Antietam

Program teaches American history in a unique way

December 15, 2011|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Independent film maker Midge Flinn Yost, right helps E. Russell Hicks students Emanuel Teferi and Carrina Martinez, along with their peers dressed as Confederate soldiers, direct and shoot a film at Antietam National Battlefield on Thursday morning as part of the "Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student" program.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

There were different kinds of commands that echoed Thursday across the rolling hills of Antietam National Battlefield.

"Quiet down! Don't Smile! Ready? Action!" shouted Tanner Barnett, an eight-grade student at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown.

Dressed in a red battle frock like the one worn by Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill, Barnett was directing one in a sequence of films that magnet students at the school researched, wrote and produced.

The educational event, known as "Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student," was hosted by the nonprofit organization Journey Through Hallowed Ground. The idea is to give students an opportunity to learn American history in a unique way.

Barnett said he didn't know a lot about the Battle of Antietam before he and his classmates began participating in the program at the beginning of the school year.

"I knew it was a big battle and the bloodiest day in American history," Barnett said. "I didn't know about Special Order 191, the generals or the number of people who fought here .... I had a great time doing this project. You get more experience, and it's more in depth."

John K. Jones, a spokesman for Journey Through Hallowed Ground, said the project's focus is on the Civil War to mark the 150th anniversary of that conflict.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground works in conjunction with the National Park Service and is funded, in part, by the History Channel and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Jones said the students researched the historical events, created their own scripts and even made some of their own costumes for the filming.

Midge Flinn Yost, a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., resident and independent filmmaker, gave the children pointers on how to act, shoot and direct the scenes.

"We're bringing history to life with these kids," Jones said. "They're creating minimovies depicting their interpretation of critical events in their own backyard."

Students in Virginia recently finished movies documenting the Battle of Bull Run, Jones said.

This year, students from E. Russell Hicks and Springfield Middle School in Williamsport will shoot scenes at Antietam National Battlefield and along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

He said the program will travel next year to Gettysburg, Pa., to cover that historic battle.

On Thursday, students gathered at Bloody Lane on the Antietam battlefield to re-enact the story of Alexander Gardner, a Civil War photographer who took photos of the battle's aftermath. They also re-enacted the combat at Burnside Bridge and scenes from the final minutes of the engagement, when Hill counterattacked to thwart the Union advance.

Robin Meyers, director of education for Journey Through Hallowed Ground, said the students recently visited the National Archives and the former home of Clara Barton in Washington, D.C., to research their projects.

"It makes them learn in a totally different way," she said. "It teaches them to think outside the box."

Meyers said the students will edit their films on advanced computer software and present their final products in Frederick, Md., on May 23.

E. Russell Hicks eighth-grader Emmanuel Teferi said he has always enjoyed learning about history, but the Journey Through Hallowed Ground project allowed him to appreciate the lesson even more.

"It's a good experience because it's not just textbook reading," he said. "We got to learn in other styles. It's not a quick process — it takes awhile, and there's a lot of reviewing. But in the end, I think it's worth it."

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