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Home-school students get hands-on experience at Fort Ligonier

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
John Clark Bruner, 6, of Blairsville, tries on a canteen and gun powder holder in the sawmill of Fort Ligonier on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Home school students had the opportunity to live the lives of patriots and they had encountered an indentured servant, a soldier in hiding and experienced school as it was in the 18th century.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Bonnie Fisher, 4, of Meyersdale, and Benjamin Steltzer, 3, of Boswell, serve imaginary tea in the sawmill while their siblings participated in Patriot Day activities for home-school students at Fort Ligonier on March 6.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Stepahine Faidley (right), 11, of Rockwood, and Colton Steltzer, 10, of Boswell, await the activities to begin at Fort Ligonier onMarch 6. Home school students had the opportunity to live the lives of 18th-century patriots.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Elizabeth Bruner (left), 10, and sister Abigail Bruner, 12, of Blairsville, walk through displays at the Fort Ligonier Museum on March 6. Home-school students had the opportunity to live the lives of patriots and experienced school as it was in the 18th century.

The soft flickering of candlelight provided the ambiance of an earlier time in history at the Fort Ligonier Museum as a group of home-school students prepared to immerse themselves back into the 18th century.

All in attendance were attired in period dress, some even made their own 18th-century costumes.

The evening marked the end of the “Why America is Free” curriculum, a unique, interdisciplinary program for upper elementary school, created by the Values Through History organization.

“This is an unprecedented hands-on learning experience for educators and their students,” said Annie Urban executive director at Fort Ligonier. “The curriculum covers the extraordinary events, times and heroes from the French and Indian War leading up to the American Revolution as well as the principles and values upon which the country was founded.”

Based in Sugar Land, Texas, Values Through History is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the preservation of American heritage.

According to Urban, it does so in a way that unifies students, expands minds, generates respect and responsibility, strengthens character and establishes a lasting curiosity for learning.

“Fort Ligonier is the first museum to adopt it and may serve as a model for other museums and historic sites interested in this type of educational programming,” said Urban. “This amazing program is a culmination of eight weeks of learning about life prior to the Revolution.”

The pilot program concluded with a Patriot Day on March 6. During this event, 27 home school students portrayed the lives of patriots. They encountered an indentured servant, a soldier in hiding and experienced school as it was in the 18th century. They also performed a colonial dance.

Since January, students in grade 3 through grade 8, from Westmoreland, Somerset and Indiana Counties, attended the weekly, half-day program.

“We saw the curriculum at Valley School and decided it would be a great program to offer to our home-schoolers,” said Mary Manges director of education at the fort.

Kaitlin, 16, and Kirstin, 12, Essig of Ligonier participated in the program.

“They included this curriculum for a public speaking project as part of the English requirement,” said their mother, Kathleen. “It has far exceeded that.”

The sisters and their mother, who also volunteer at the fort during the regular season, said the program was a way to promote Fort Ligonier to people from other areas.

“It was a great opportunity to represent the fort and Ligonier and to encourage everyone to come back,” said Kaitlin, who has accumulated 200 volunteer hours at the fort.

The Bruner family of Blairsville was also impressed with the program.

“They talk about it all the time,” said Connie Bruner about her children Abigail, 12, Elizabeth, 10, and John Clark, 7. “Every day they talk about the American Revolution. They march and drill and dress up in colonial period outfits.”

Bruner said her daughters made the colonial dresses and hats they wore for the program.

“It was very exciting to learn how they lived back then,” said Elizabeth. “We learned George Washington was a good general to lead the war.”

Manges said they plan to offer the program again next year.

“We are so proud of these kids. They learned the manners and proper behavior of the 18th century,” said Manges.

Urban credits a grant from the Courtney Babcock Borntraeger Foundation for providing the opportunity to adapt the program at the fort for home-school students.

“The students really embraced the program,” said Urban.