Viking Voyages take students through time

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Students in Jolene Twombly-Wiser's class at the Oxford Middle School visit Riverside Cemetery in Market Square, Paris to learn about stone symbols and art work with local artist Aranka Matolcsy.

PARIS — The pursuit of learning comes in many forms at the Oxford Hills Middle School.

Viking Voyages, a recent week-long experiential learning block for students at the Oxford Hills Middle School, sent students to local museums and cemeteries, put cameras and hammers in their hands, let some view local historical images, create Halloween craft and treat bags for youngsters, clean a veterans’ monument in a Paris cemetery and even create a magazine.

It was all part of the Viking Voyages – a new program developed by staff at the middle school to replace the popular Quests that were initiated as an alternative learning experience about six years ago when the middle school split into two campuses and went to a trimester schedule.

The Quests allowed students to learn in nontraditional ways by offering a wide range of opportunities and included partnerships with local businesses.

This year, with the return to the quarter grading system, and because of the success of the previous Quests, teachers developed about 30 different week-long Viking Voyage lesson plans for students to sign up for this fall. Many involved collaborations with the Oxford Hills Technical School and the community at large.

“Most of the voyages had a community involvement piece and over one hundred students participated in voyages that were connected to Oxford Hills Technical School,” said Principal Paul Bickford this week.

For example, Oxford Hills Technical School Advanced Communications third-year students helped teach a middle school class editing with iMovie; Building Trades II & III students helped another group of students with the construction of eight dog houses that were donated to the Responsible Pet Care shelter’s thrift store in Norway; Graphic Design II & III students helped put the final touches on magazine covers and spreads for students in another class.

In addition to the collaboration with the technical school students, other middle school students were able to work with members of the community.

Students in the Historical Paris Voyage, for example,  went on a tour of local historical sights with Ben Conant, the curator of the Paris Historical Society.

Oxford Hills Middle School students Alex Bartlett, Lucas Brett, Carter Weed and Tristan Corey, helped cleaned gravestones of a Civil War veteran at the Riverside Cemetery.

In The Future Looks Bright Viking Voyage, students created iMovies highlighting the differences between the Oxford Hills Middle School facilities and the new Westbrook Middle School, showing that a new middle school could look like.  During this Voyage,  photographer Brewster Burns taught students about the importance of telling a story using videography and photography.

The Solar System Voyage learned about the scale of the solar system and created 3-D prints of the planets, and then posted them on the Viking trail, a public trail that runs between the middle school North campus and the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

Talking dead

And in writing, teacher Jolene Twombly-Wiser’s class, explored local cemeteries and concentrated on Civil War veterans’ gravestones at one of the cemeteries.

“It was a hands-on experiential learning/project which lasted the entire week-it was awesome. My Viking Voyage was called Talking With the Dead: Exploring Local Cemeteries,” she said.

The students in Twombly-Wiser’s class visited three local cemeteries in Norway and Paris, meeting with local artist Aranka Matolcsy who toured the Riverside Cemetery in Paris with the students; the Frost Hill Cemetery with Rev. Fayre Stephenson and the Norway Pine Grove Cemetery with Stuart Goodwin.

The students learned about the art/symbolism on the stones and about the notable people buried in the cemeteries, said Twombley-Wiser.

Additionally, each student was assigned a Civil War soldier buired at Riverside Cemetery to research, she said. The students also cleaned a veteran’s memorial and picked up trash as a service project.

“During the project I learned not just about my Civil War soldier, but also about the lifestyle of most soldiers,” said student Hazel Colby who studied along with classmate Tori Luz studied Cicil War Captain Albion A. Hersey.

Students went to the Frost Hill Cemetery in Norway to learn about its history with the Rev.  Fayre Stephenson. The cemetery is located on her property.

Colby said they learned Hersey was discharged on Dec. 21, 1862 due to a diability and married a year later.

Colby said the hands-on experience of seeing Albion’s gravestone was beneficial in her research.

“What helped me understand more about the Civil War soldiers that we researched was going to the cemeteries and being able to have hands-on learning.”

Calling the research “really intriguing, Colby said she also learned what local life was like around the Civil War era.

“I loved to have an opportunity like that and I’m glad I learned what I learned and hope to keep that information with me as long as possible,” she said.

The Viking Voyages are expected to be repeated again this spring.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net