RICHMOND—For the past four years, the fourth graders at Richmond Elementary School have studied the history, geography and the culture of Rhode Island as part of their social studies curriculum. The culmination of their studies is known as “Rhode Island Day,” an all-day celebration including Rhode Island foods, a scavenger hunt, games and presentations from the Audubon Society.
“We’ve done this for four or five years now, where the students get to immerse themselves in Rhode Island culture all day,” said Jeanne Garr, fourth grade teacher.
The day began with native dance lessons from Loren Spears, who is a Narragansett Indian as well as the director of Tomaquag Museum in Exeter. Teaching the “Stamp” also known as “Standing Quiver Dance,” Spears led the fourth graders around the cafeteria as they stomped their feet to a Narragansett song, which they sang in call and response with Spears. Students also learned a partner dance called “The Mosquito” that involved kicking to the left and then to the right – it required good coordination with one’s dance partner to avoid foot collisions.
Spears, dressed in native costume, also showed examples of Narragansett arts and crafts. And she talked about the difference between regular American Thanksgiving and the Narragansett’s version.
“We celebrate 13 Thanksgivings one for each lunar year, and the new harvests,” she said.
Thinking about Thanksgiving made some students hungry and there was plenty of Rhode Island food for them to sample. In one classroom, local vendors had donated native Rhode Island victuals: Calvito’s pizza, Ali’s donuts, Del’s lemonade, coffee milk from Munroe Dairy, chowder from the Richmond Country Club, Sweenor’s chocolates, Saugys hotdogs and many others.
Students were enthusiastic about the food choices.
“The chowder is really good because the potatoes are in it and just tastes really well,” said a fourth grade boy.
“I like the Saugys. They’re juicy and they really taste good. It’s my first time trying one,” said another.
“Donuts from Ali’s donuts are my favorite. They’re really good; they’re not like regular donuts; they’re more filling and I could eat them everyday,” said a fourth grade girl.
“I thought the coffee milk was chocolate milk so I took it and someone said it was actually coffee milk so I drank it anyway and I figured out why they call it coffee milk and I liked it,” said another.
“I like the pizza, the chocolate donut, the coffee milk, I pretty much like everything,” said a future connoisseur of Rhode Island foods.
Also on hand was Dick Donnelly of Kenyon Grist Mill who was making jonnycakes on a griddle. He was a strong proponent of Rhode Island as a state.
“I’ve been in Rhode Island for 80 years and have gone to other places and I don’t want to live anywhere else,” he said.
Downstairs students with clipboards were looking for clues to a Rhode Island scavenger hunt, which they only had one hour to complete.
“Students made posters about Rhode Island’s cities and towns and they’re looking for the information on the posters. Whoever answers the most questions gets a prize,” said Alvital Hain, a student teacher from URI who is majoring in elementary education and psychology.
“The teachers came up with the idea of the scavenger hunt. The goal is for the students to learn about the state where they are living,” she added.
Upstairs, students played Rhode Island jeopardy, which tested their knowledge of state history. They were also able to see live owls in a presentation from the Audubon Society.
“They look forward to Rhode Island Day. When they get to fourth grade they say, ‘’Oh, we’re going to be able to celebrate RI Day,’” said Garr.
Students will also go on a field trip to the State House and to the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson and Wales University in Providence.
“Our culminating field trip is the light house fast ferry cruise out of Quonset and it takes a tour around Narragansett Bay of ten light houses,” said Garr.
In addition, the Department of Environmental Management will do a presentation about local fish while students are visiting the beach at Quonset. Students will also learn about the coastline’s estuaries and the importance of salt ponds.
“Rhode Island Day really just pulls it all together for our great state. Some kids even think it’s a state holiday,” said Garr.