“I’m a visual learner and an interactive learner, so this was the best!” reflects 8th grade West Hills Middle School student Sofia Triantafyllidis, about the hands-on demonstrations from Battery K, Michigan’s First Light Artillery, a group of Civil War Reenactors. Battery K, an artillery unit that actually existed during the Civil War, visited West Hills to show students what life was like for Civil War militia. This is the 10th year that Laura VanGemert, 8th grade Social Studies Teacher, has coordinated the reenactors’ visit. “We try to make it as hands-on as possible,” VanGemert explains. “The students learn history, the importance of teamwork and following directions, the chain of commands, and terminology.” The visit aligns with the 8th grade Social Studies curriculum, centering on American history. VanGemert notes, “We do a broad study of the Civil War, but I also like to include local history as much as possible. The kids have been so engaged and enthusiastic, and that’s what makes it so fun - their curiosity, and their willingness to take a risk and do something new and get into character. The students act as if they’re soldiers on their first day of training.”
After over a year of not being able to share their historical demonstration, Battery K was happily surprised to be contacted by VanGemert, to re-institute this tradition at West Hills. The all-outdoors reenactment allows 8th grade students to experience this part of Civil War history in an engaging, hands-on way. 8th grade student Kendall Schulz shares, “Everyone is so energetic and it really makes it a fun experience. I like learning about infantry. It’s great!” Student Brody Oleshansky adds, “I found this was very informative, and I really enjoyed it. I learned what works a cannon, how to work in a line with other people, and the holding of the flag. We talked about black powder, which is inside the boxes, which ignites the cannon. My favorite part was how to load a rifle: how you take out the powder, rip it with your teeth, clean it out, load it and fire it. We learned different ways to hold the rifle, like on your shoulder, and on the ground, and how you switch to the other side when you’re tired.”
Principal Andy Gignac shares, “I am thankful and appreciative of Mrs. VanGemert for planning this unique opportunity for our students, and to Battery K for their enthusiasm and commitment in supporting our curriculum.” Many thanks to this Civil War reenactment group for bringing history alive for our West Hills 8th grade students!