Commission will teach local students Smithfield history

Commission will teach local students Smithfield history

SMITHFIELD – The Smithfield Historic Preservation Commission has announced a partnership with LaPerche and Old County Road Elementary Schools to develop a curriculum teaching 4th-graders about Smithfield’s history.

Commission member Ben Caisse presented the curriculum to the Town Council on April 2, highlighting seven plans to teach the students about Smithfield’s mill history, including water mills, cotton thread manufacturing, weaving and child labor.

Caisse said the commission is interested in extending its reach into the schools to promote the town’s history through interactive lessons and hands-on workshops.

Town Council President Suzy Alba thanked the commission for its hard work, praising members for their ingenuity.

“I think it’s so important for the young people in this community to learn the history. It wasn’t taught before, and now it will be,” she said.

Caisse said the commission identified the second portion of the school year in 4th-grade classes when students are learning about Rhode Island history and the Industrial Revolution as the perfect segue into the “rich, rich industrial history.”

Teachers Jana Schnell at LaPerche and Lindsay Paolino at Old County Road will pilot the program this spring. Beginning right after spring break, teachers will supplement what they are already teaching with curriculum developed by the commission based on seven lesson plans, Caisse said.

Teachers can access lesson plans through Google Drive to download, edit and adjust lessons to their needs. Caisse said each lesson contains detailed plans including worksheets, historical photographs and documents, supporting video clips from locations around town, and hands-on learning activities.

In the pre-industrial lesson, students learn how wool was spun into yarn. They’ll be able to use tools to straighten wool and bobbins to spin the yarn. At the end of the day, students will make bracelets from raw wool turned into yarn.

In the second lesson, the wool will be woven into cloth. Students will use a cardboard loom to learn the time-consuming task of weaving by hand.

The lesson will include photos of machines from the Esmond Mills used to make cloth and the Esmond bunny blanket. Commission member Katie Law donated a bunny blanket for students to feel and see firsthand the products of the mill.

“What we’re most proud of is that we’ve gathered historical artifacts that the students will be able to touch and feel and be a part of history,” Caisse said.

In the third, fourth and fifth lessons, students will study maps of the waterways showcasing the mill-scapes, waterwheels, and water-runs that occupy the rivers and streams of Smithfield.

“The Woonasquatucket and tributaries created this incredible resource that we can harness to power our iron forges, our textile mills and our grist mills,” Caisse said.

“They’ll use maps to show our waterways to show them why Smithfield was the ideal place to build mills,” Caisse said.

The commission also created a scavenger hunt for students to go into town to find old mill parts and buildings that are still in Smithfield. Using maps, students will identify parts of the town that are old remnants of the town’s past.

Caisse said students will use cardboard and Dixie cups to create a water-driven device to show the strength of water power, as well.

For the final lessons, the commission created a section based on the role of child labor in Smithfield. He said the commission was able to identify children working in Smithfield when they were around the same age as the students who will be learning about them.

Students will learn about working conditions, pay rates, and necessity behind the child workforce, comparing it to their own lives. Caisse said he’s made historical badges for students to pretend they are workers.

To conclude the curriculum, students will dress in period clothing and take photos in front of a large display of a mill.

Caisse said the commission will take student and teacher feedback and continue to grow and improve the curriculum.

“We hope this will be the first of many curriculum that we can develop and that we can share with our elementary teachers and really foster that relationship,” Caisse said.

“It’s been a labor of love, and something we can hope to build on,” he said.