RICHFORD – Unlike the Nile as it passes through Egypt, the Missisquoi River doesn’t flow south-to-north when it winds through Richford.
Still, that didn’t keep a joint Richford – Berkshire summer camp, hosted at the Richford Junior/Senior High School last week, from diving into the sights and tastes of the Egyptian civilization that called the Nile home.
Students made papier-mâché death masks, prepared flatbreads and dates for the first time, and learned how to sketch their names using hieroglyphics – the alphabet soup of more than 1,000 characters and symbols that defined the Ancient Egyptian written language.
“There’s so many fascinating, different things about that civilization,” said Annette Goyne, the school’s teacher librarian and the coordinator conducting this summer camp. “It lends itself to literacy, communication, belief systems, math – all the things that make us human.”
Annually, Richford hosts one of the Vermont Humanities Council (VHC)’s Humanities Camps, a weeklong summer camp allowing middle school students a chance to engage with the humanities under the guise of projects and activities.
As a part of the VHC’s program, students attend the camp daily and receive a free set of books relative to whatever the theme of that camp was.
In Richford this year, that theme was Ancient Egypt, meaning students received novels and activity books about adventures into Egyptian tombs and do-it-yourself projects for homemade takes on Egyptian jewelry, foods and architecture.
VHC also sponsored a field trip for Richford’s campers, bringing them to the Fleming Museum of Art in Burlington where the University of Vermont curates an exhibit on Egyptian artifacts and where students received hands-on lessons from museum archaeologists about archaeology and preservation.
Aside from home readings and field trips, projects and games allowed students the chance to exercise some of the knowledge they learned over the course of the camp.
At the end of the week, some of those projects were laid out across the Richford cafeteria. Parents – and the Messenger – passed between tables, learning about Ancient Egypt from the students themselves.
There were projects about the boats Egyptians would use to sail down the Nile, mockups of funerary figures and sketches of Egyptian gods based off of real-life counterparts observed in Egyptian tombs.
One team of students recreated an Egyptian wardrobe, and another team made foods their books said Egyptians would eat, including homemade hummus, flatbreads and dates.
“I didn’t know anything about dates,” remarked one of the students in the team that made food. “It seemed interesting.”
During a presentation to their parents at the end of their summer camp, students rattled off facts about what they learned over the course of the week, even correcting Goyne on the meanings of some hieroglyphics the students saw at the Fleming Museum of Art.
“We had one camper say the one thing they learned was that the Ancient Egyptians were a lot like us,” Goyne said afterward.
VHC camps typically base their themes off of an annual shortlist set every year by VHC. According to VHC’s Director of Literacy Programs, Alison Palmer, schools with returning VHC camps have a little more freedom in what they choose to base their humanities camp on.
Despite the fact that Egypt wasn’t on that shortlist, Richford and one other Vermont school decided on Egypt as their theme of choice.
According to VHC’s website, humanities camps are particularly tailored to “at-risk students” and offer a chance for students who might struggle in traditional classroom settings to engage with the humanities – studies of human society and culture – more personally.
“Across the board, the camp directors will say… it’s such a great opportunity to teach kids through experiential education,” Palmer said. “Just marrying engaging activity with the content in a way that makes it compelling for students.
“And they get so excited,” Palmer continued. “[Directors] just see sides of the students they haven’t seen before.”
Goyne, speaking just as the camp was winding up and counselors escorted students and parents out of the Richford school, praised the humanities camps for what they offered students during what, according to Goyne, could be a challenging time for them.
“I think the middle school years are a pretty tough time for kids,” Goyne said. “They’re learning who they are… and they’re curious and eager to learn about the world.
“It’s a perfect time for children to explore a topic in depth that they hadn’t before.”
As she spoke, one student led his parents away from Richford’s cafeteria.
“You’ll never guess what this is made of,” he told his parents, holding a piece of food made by another project group.
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