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Catholic School celebrates state's history

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Published:   |   Updated: May 9, 2013 at 04:58 PM
PORT RICHEY -

Two fourth-grade classrooms stepped back more than 100 years into the past with the third annual “Old Florida Day” at Bishop Larkin Catholic School.

Fourth grade is the year that students study Florida history in their social studies class, so three years ago, teacher Louise Fuchs came up with a half-day event of hands-on activities to teach students about life before electronics.

A typical fourth-grade student is 10 years old. They don't know what life is like without the Internet, mobile phones and the variety of electronic devices used daily that people take for granted.

“They get to experience what it was like for the pioneers,” Fuchs said. “They're learning how hard it was to exist before all the technology they're used to.”

The students got a free pass from wearing their school uniform for the day. The boys wore long pants, suspenders and straw hats, the girls wore long skirts, bonnets and bandanas.

“I've been waiting for this all year,” said 10-year-old Isabella Nappoli. “It's super cool because it's a day only for fourth graders and we get to dress up and don't have any homework.”

Isabella finished tying the knot on her wooden bead bracelet. She and her classmates compared their new handmade jewelry and chatted excitedly about the next station, where they'd get to make and mold their own soap.

In the next room, students used an electric juicer to squeeze orange juice, a griddle to make pancakes, and they even made their own butter by vigorously shaking heavy whipping cream in a small container.

“We call ourselves 'rich' pioneers,” joked 9-year-old Angelina Ruiz about using electric devices for their food.

Charles Astuto, 11, washed his hands free of the sticky juice running down his hands from the electric juicer.

“I was thinking about everything, like how people used soap back then but didn't have microwaves (the children made theirs in a microwave) and how they made pancakes but didn't have pancake makers and made orange juice but didn't have orange juice makers,” Charles said.

Across the room, other students created corn husk dolls. Their creativity showed with corn husk purses, hair bows and scarves for their dolls.

“I think this was a pretty cool activity and a way to make toys way back then,” said Adriana Lopez.

“They didn't have Toys 'R' Us,” Angelina chimed in.

Earlier in the year, Fuchs took her students on a field trip to Cracker Country at the Florida State Fair, Tampa's only living history museum.

It was founded to preserve Florida's rural heritage in 1978 by former state Sen. Doyle E. Carlton Jr. and his wife Mildred. The museum holds a collection of 13 original buildings dating from 1870-1912 that were relocated from throughout the state of Florida.

The buildings range from public buildings like the Terry Store and Okahumpka Train Depot, to private buildings like the Carlton and Smith homes. Today, the historically furnished buildings re-create the lifestyles of the past, and costumed interpreters portray daily living as Florida pioneers.

In addition to learning about their state's history, Fuchs said, the students learn to work together in groups during the Old Florida activities and even have a hand in helping to plan the event and the supply list.

“It's a great learning experience,” said teacher Lauren Alaimo.

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