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Wexford Elementary students discover difficulty Pilgrims encountered

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Third graders Gabe Antillon, Caitlin Abbate, Clarie Rockacy and Brayden Perry stand on their “ship” and await instructions from teacher Christopher Vins during the first day of the Pilgrim Simulation. Photo credit: Rachel Farkas
Third grade pilgrims Max Heckert, Rylee Branscum and Sophie Azar work together to describe their ocean voyage in their Pilgrim Simulation journals. Photo credit: Rachel Farkas

Being a pilgrim at Plymouth Colony wasn't easy, as some Wexford Elementary third-graders found out the week prior to Thanksgiving.

Five classes of third-graders at Wexford Elementary School dressed up in stereotypical pilgrim garb — black knickers and buckled hats for the boys and ankle-length black dresses with white bonnets for the girls — and went through the annual Pilgrim Simulation.

Teachers said most children that age think of the glorified legend of the first Thanksgiving, rather than the actual history.

“Kids have a lot of misconceptions about pilgrims, so that's why we started this,” said third-grade teacher Patty Perine. “It's not all clean and glorified.”

Perine said they discuss with the students the hardships the pilgrims faced, like not having shelter, easy access to food, medicine or bathrooms.

They've run the simulation the three days prior to Thanksgiving for the past 15 years, Perine said, and it has always been a hit with the students.

“The kids look forward to this every year,” she said.

The simulation takes students from the beginning of the pilgrims' trip, when they were still at home in Holland, to the end, when they made peace with the Native Americans, Perine said. Students work in groups within their classrooms to complete each phase of the simulation.

Throughout the event, teachers read descriptions of the pilgrim's experience and then asked the students questions about it, said third-grade teacher Christopher Vins. They also did activities to simulate things that the pilgrims experienced.

For example, during the students' journey across the ocean, they had to stand with their groups in 3-foot-by-6-foot rectangles taped onto the floor, which represented their ship. If a student stepped out of the rectangle, they “lost a man overboard” from their ship, Vins said.

When the weather got rough on their ocean voyage, students had to work with their teammates to tie three pieces of string into a circle, representing the ability to mend their ship's sails.

At other times throughout the simulation, students would flip a coin to represent fate.

“A lot of it was luck,” Vins said of the pilgrims survival.

The students also wrote journals detailing their experience as if they were 8- and 9-year-old pilgrims going through the journey.

The activity, which took up most of the school day except for math class, wasn't all fun and games.

“It's a lot of work,” Vins said. “It involves team building, listening skills.”

The goal of the simulation is for students to perform better than the original pilgrims throughout their journey nearly 400 years ago. They strive to cross the ocean quick, have a better survival rate, build houses faster and grow more crops than their predecessors.

Most years students perform about on par with the Plymouth pilgrims, Vins said, but they come away with a greater understanding of the origins of the first Thanksgiving.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or

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