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George Washington at Valley Forge outreach program available from Ernie Miller Nature Center through January
POSTED: 11/28/2007
 
The trials and accomplishments of George Washington and his Continental Army during the brutal winter of 1777 is the subject of a living history presentation being offered for groups by interpretive staff from the Johnson County Park and Recreation District's Ernie Miller Nature Center.

Park Naturalist Molly Postlewait developed the 45-minute program, which is called Winter at Valley Forge and is aimed at fourth- fifth, and sixth-graders. The program is available for classroom bookings during December and January. This timing not only coincides with the time of year these events actually unfolded over 225 years ago, but also ties into the January observation of Kansas History Month and the study of American heroes in Kansas classrooms.

"I love the creativity which is involved with taking a little slice of history and making it real so that it's not just dates and times and boring stuff," Postlewait said. "I love to bring the human aspect into it. I wanted to bring to light some of the women who were involved in the revolutionary effort. The story that I present is told from the perspective of three different women, so I actually change costume and change character during the program."

The first "eyewitness account" is presented by an older well-to-do women who serves as a spy for the revolutionary cause in the British-controlled city of Philadelphia. Her name is Lydia Dowden and she is a composite character based on the stories of several real women. Second, audiences meet Sybil Ludington, who was a real historical figure sometimes called the "female Paul Revere" because she rode her horse through the countryside alerting the minutemen of advancing British troops. The third character is a fictional woman named Molly Callahan, who is the daughter of an indentured servant from Ireland whose husband and 12-year-old son are part of Washington's forces at Valley Forge.

She makes the transition between characters using the words of the song "Yankee Doodle" and through changes in lighting and costume, Postlewait said. Throughout the program, George Washington is prominently referred to and mentioned by every character. Washington at Valley Forge was developed using Kansas Department of Education standards and Postlewait said she tried to strongly correlate the program to state history standards.

"For instance, the kids are learning about what a loyalist was, a patriot, an indentured servant, and the concept of taxation without representation," Postlewait said. "We tried to weave in those topics into this so that it would be pertinent to the classroom."

At the end of each presentation, Postlewait gives students an opportunity to give comments or ask questions and she leaves a packet of materials for students to review including a timeline, vocabulary words, and classroom discussion questions.

Postlewait said she wants her audiences to experience "pride, amazement, and astonishment that a rag-tag group of amateur citizens were able to stop the greatest force on the earth, which is what the British army was considered." She said she also wants to bring home the fact that the revolution was a war fought by civilians with women and children involved.

Winter at Valley Forge is available for presentation at school and other locations throughout the metropolitan area. The cost for the first 45-minute presentation at a site is $49 for Johnson County residents or $54 for nonresidents. The cost for consecutive presentations at the same site are $36 for Johnson County residents or $40 for nonresidents. Presentations are limited to groups of 35 students or less. For more information or to schedule a program, call the Ernie Miller Nature Center at (913) 764-7759.

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