By Suzanne Schmidt
Once upon a time two people fell in love but a wall separated them, and then when it came down the couple was able to get married.
To the casual observer this story just might sound like a fairytale, but it was actually part of a school assignment where high school students had to write about topics from the Cold War on a kindergarten level.
Students in Tanner Schmitz’ American History class at Wiregrass High School had to really learn the subject matter in order to write the books for the younger students.
“They split into groups and they each chose a topic from the Cold War,” Schmitz said. “They had to explain the topic in a way the kids would understand.”
The assignment helped the high school students to better learn the material. He compared it to being able to explain McCarthyism without using the word McCarthyism.
“If you can explain something without the using the words, then that shows mastery of the subject,” Schmitz said. “They had to create a child’s story based on the topics.”
For two weeks, juniors in Schmitz class worked on the picture books before Tanner Schmitz showed them to his wife Amanda Schmitz, a kindergarten teacher at Veterans Elementary, to pick the top three. The students who wrote those books were invited to come to read to the kindergartners in Schmitz’s class.
The students in the class were allowed to pick their favorite book, but the best part was for the kindergartners to see the high school students in person.
“Seeing the high school kids is like seeing rock stars for them,” Tanner Schmitz said. “It was really nice because my students are coming to read to the kindergartners on their own free time.”
Students wrote about topics like the Berlin wall coming down and the Space Race.
“Upper level topics don’t have to be complicated,” Schmitz said. “That is the great thing about history. Everything can be broken down into a story. Even the most complicated topic can be told as a story. While they were working on the books, they had to demonstrate how their story fit with the topic.”
Spencer Gould, 16, Brennan Moore, 17, and Brittany Gonzales, 17, wrote “The Disaster of Brie and the Story of Me.”
Gould, Moore and Gonzales decided to tell the tale of the Berlin wall through a tragic story of two lovebirds separated by a wall, which eventually comes down allowing the couple to marry.
“It took a lot of time but it was well worth it, because it came out so good,” Gonzales said.
Gould said writing the book was a lot of fun.
“We had to bring the vocabulary down to their level but still tell the story of the girl and the wall,” Gould said. “It was nice to read to them and get a thank you from them.”
Joy Benson, 16, Brooke Ridgeway, 17 and Helena Marlin, 16, wrote “The Space Race.”
“The best part was getting to see them look at you with their big eyes,” Marlin said.
Amanda Schmitz said her students enjoyed meeting the older kids.
“They are ecstatic about the high schoolers visiting,” Amanda Schmitz said. “I think it helps them to feel important because they see the kids care about them and want to share with them.”
She said she thinks her students learned something to aspire to.
“They don’t understand the full historical relevance,” Amanda Schmitz said. “It was great for them just to see the older kids writing and their level of work. It sets the expectations for them to look forward to.”
Sophia Horn, 6, said she really liked hearing the older kids read stories to her class.
“I want to be a big kid so I can write lots of stories,” Horn said. “They were nice stories with pretty drawings.”