‘Websterville’ shows colonial life in 1775

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    Visitors to Webster Elementary School last Friday were treated to a trip back in time to Colonial America as the school’s 4th and 5th grade classes presented “Websterville,” a demonstration of colonial life in 1775.

    The young colonists set up shops in the Webster cafeteria, transforming it into a colonial village. Each of the 166 participating students assumed the clothing, the look and the speech of a colonist they had researched. Every shop represented a different colonial trade and displayed the appropriate tools of the time. Visitors were given tours and treated to lessons in colonial life.

    Among the trades represented were milliners, shoemakers, blacksmiths, silversmiths, printers, bakers, an apothecary, soap makers, candle makers, tavern owners and customers. There was gentry house, which gave tourists a glimpse into the softer life, and the kitchen where hard-working slaves prepared the meals.

    Cheyenne, a milliner, told visitors how she used her treadle sewing machine. Eunice, a wigmaker, demonstrated the proper way to prepare a powdered wig. “We use animal fat and flour. The animal fat makes it stiff and we use the flour for powder,” she explained.

    Olivia, a village candle maker, showed visitors how candles were made. “You have to be really careful,” she explained. “If the candle wasn’t scented, the smell is very bad because we use animal fat.”

    The colonial militia, dressed in period attire and armed with muskets, set up camp on the edge of town and the men would occasionally march around the perimeter of town to make sure all was well. In case the peace was broken, the judicial system was in place, complete with judge, barrister and a jail cell with bars.

    “They did the whole thing from beginning to end,” said teacher Victoria Winokur. “They wrote reports about their characters, they painted the backdrops. Everyone came away learning something.”

    “It really made social studies come alive,” said teacher Katie Jochims. “They were all so proud of their work and eager to show it off to their friends and family.”

    “They surpassed our expectations,” said teacher Susan Cooley. “They really got into what they were doing, which shows their knowledge of the topic.”

    Planning for the event began in October. Students spent months researching and reporting on the characters they would portray. They shared the information they gathered in a report detailing the life, work, family, food and clothing of their character.

    Parents, teachers and friends brought in decorative items, including some antiques from the colonial period. Students made goods to display in their stores and baked cornbread, gingerbread and johnnycakes to share with tourists.

    When the community heard about the event, donations poured in. The Artifac Tree, Malibu’s thrift shop, sent furniture, rugs and other decorative items to embellish the stores and houses. Ralph’s Market paid for some of the lunch that was served to participants. Bill Poole, Malibu High wood shop teacher and husband of late Webster teacher Bea Poole, loaned blacksmith tools and built a stockade for the Websterville jail.

    “It gives them a hands-on example of the past instead of just seeing it on a page,” said Nance Little, a parent volunteer. “The kids really had fun and they really got into their characters.”

    “It was really different from now, especially the way we talked,” said Athena, a tavern owner. “Getting to be someone else was really fun.”

    “What’s impressive to me is how much they learned in order to get here,” said Webster Principal Phil Cott. “Not only did the students demonstrate what they learned, they taught it to the other kids so the whole school was involved. They had dramatic involvement from their parents, they got the community to support them and they showed the community what they learned in this benchmark event. Those are the things a good school is supposed to do.”