Camden 28 – A Moment in History

In preparation for the field trip on December 6, the following PDF will be helpful. It provides background and information about each of the men and women involved.

Camden 28 Discussion Guide

 

Welcome Back!

September is finally here! School is about to start in a few days and I have so many things to tell you. First, the big news … I am the new social studies teacher at Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden! This school year, I will be teaching U.S. History I and U.S. History II. I am so excited for this opportunity and have many new and fun things planned for the school year.

We’ve been busy this summer. My oldest is also starting a new school – KINDERGARTEN!  This partially explains the hectic, but fun, summer we had. We visited the Constitution Center and the new Museum of the American Revolution. At the Constitution Center,  my son enjoyed the Hall of Signers and the interactive touch screens.

We also stopped at some historic sites on our way back to the train station including the site Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

I visited the Museum of the American Revolution during the school year with two colleagues so I knew I wanted to go back with my dad and son. Some highlights of the visit were George Washington’s original sleeping and office tent and costumes used by the actors on the AMC show Turn: Washington’s Spies.

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Turn

Like last summer, this summer included some professional development. I attended the James Madison Legacy Project – We the People Institute at Rutgers. With a focus on the citizen and the constitution, it was awesome and we were busy from the minute we got there until we left. I got to meet amazing educators from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The first night we went to downtown New Brunswick for ice cream at one of my favorite places, Thomas Sweets. After we walked around the campus and it was overwhelming to see how much my Alma Mater and hometown area have changed since I left over ten years ago. Later in the week we took a trip to Princeton University to learn about the Jefferson Papers. Next we had lunch at Washington Crossing State Park followed with a visit to Johnson Ferry House, where George Washington and his staff stayed after the crossing of the Delaware River. My husband and I attended the Christmas Day reenactment in 2011 at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania so I was looking forward to see the historic sites on the Jersey side.  I love being able to visit local historical sites and bring the experience back to my classroom.

Last, my sons and I visited the Historic Village at Allaire (Allaire State Park) with some friends of ours, who is also an English teacher in Camden. It was interesting to learn what life might have been like for people who lived at Allaire almost 200 years ago. At the time, the United States was slowly changing and becoming more industrialized. We ended the day with a train ride, which the kids loved.

After a fun summer, I’m ready to get back to school to start the new school year and meet my new students.  See you soon!

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Teaching history in South Jersey is great for the simple fact of its location. We are so close to Philadelphia, New York, and even Washington D.C. In addition, New Jersey has its own rich history being one of the original 13 colonies. It was the site of many battles during the American Revolution and has many historical sites preserved from local taverns that were built in colonial times to houses that were station along the Underground Railroad.

 

I am always looking for ways to “bring history to life” and many historical sites hold reenactments.  A few years ago, before I was teaching, my husband and I went to the reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware at Washington Crossing State Park. The park has many events all year but the reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware River is tradition. Even though the reenactment is during the day and it was a lot warmer the year I went, it was still exceptional to see. I knew I wanted to share this experience with my future students. My visit to the reenactment, complete with my pictures, is part of my lesson.

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Pre-crossing ceremony.
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The first boat crosses from PA to NJ.
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The boat with Washington crosses.

 

During the lesson, we also discuss the importance of the Delaware River to the history of Philadelphia and Camden and how it is still vital to the City of Camden today.

 

The Delaware River divides Camden and Philadelphia and the Camden Waterfront has many attractions including the Battleship New Jersey. The city my students call home is also home to the U.S. Navy’s most decorated battleship. Teaching the Battle of Trenton offers more than simply the battle. In my class, students first examine a map of New Jersey and Pennsylvania and trace the river from Camden to Trenton.  They locate where George Washington and his army were camped on the Pennsylvania side, where they crossed, then follow the path they marched and locate the site of the battle. Imagine doing all that, in the winter of 1776. Then, the battle! I feel that when students learn this particular battle, it’s almost too good to be true.

 

First, there is something daring about doing this on Christmas. During World War I, soldiers had a Christmas Day truce, yet Washington was on the move. Next, the frozen water and moonless night both perfect for his plan. The element of surprise was critical to victory and the Hessians probably never expected the attack. The irony of the German general receiving a note written in English warning him about the attack but he couldn’t read English.  The note was later read to him as he was dying. Finally, there is the significance of winning the Battle of Trenton because of what it meant for Washington and his soldiers.  After losing many battles, Washington was able to turn the war in their favor.

 

When students see the pictures from the crossing reenactment, connect the Delaware River to their city, and feel the emotions of defeat and victory that Washington and his men may have felt, we have brought history to life.  When we study history, we see it from a limited perspective. There are certain historical figures that are revered and others who are notorious.  Washington had faults like any human, but he is still regarded as one of the best presidents.  The painting by Emanuel Leutze in 1851 reflects how art and culture shaped Washington into an iconic figure. It is also a great primary and secondary source to help students see how the crossing is depicted and here is how it actually happened.

 

At the end of my first year of teaching, the art teacher assigned a final project where students had to create a mural for a “customer”. Each teacher was a customer. The two students assigned to me were in my US History I class that semester. They asked me what I wanted them to paint. I asked them what was their favorite thing from the class or what they thought was the most interesting. “Washington crossing the Delaware”, they replied.  I told them it was ambitious but I loved it. They worked with the art teacher to create their own painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. When I look at it, I am reminded of my first year teaching.

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