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Corbett students go medieval on learning

Lessons on the Middle Ages include authentic festival
by: Kelly Moyer-Wade, Alex Cicerich, 12, a seventh-grader at Corbett Middle School, finishes grouting his tile mosaic Thursday, Dec. 14. Cicerich and his peers made crafts the week of Nov. 13, to sell at the Corbett Medieval Festival and Pageant, which takes place from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19, at Corbett Middle School.

When Corbett teens go medieval on you, remember this: stay out of firing range of the pig's head.

'We're testing the catapults next week and the winning team gets to fling the pig's head across the football field,' says Lori Luna, Corbett Middle School teacher. 'We've done it before. It just bounces like a rubber thing.'

In a town like Corbett, even history class is a bit unusual.

When students in this tiny East County burg learn about Europe's Middle Ages, they don't just read Chaucer and call it good. Over the past few months, Corbett seventh- and eighth-graders have delved deep into medieval times, touring mosques and churches to figure out the Crusades; making guild crafts to sell at their upcoming Medieval Festival; even building medieval weapons like catapults.

'We're trying to show them what life was really like in medieval times,' Luna says. 'They learn that living in a castle isn't all it's cracked up to be, and the girls are surprised that women had virtually no rights during that time. Women couldn't own property, so if their husband died they were usually given to another man as a wife.

'They're also fascinated to learn that people couldn't drink the water because it was contaminated, so they drank mostly ale,' Luna adds. 'And that the average life expectancy was around 40.'

Covering the Middle Ages is hefty subject matter - what with the Crusades, the Black Plague and 11 centuries worth of cultural shifts - so the four middle school teachers at Corbett Middle School work together.

'There are 10 different classes going on, led by teachers and parents,' Luna says as she leads a visitor around the sprawling middle school.

The 12- and 13-year-olds are scattered throughout the building, making tile mosaics, leather bracelets, rolled beeswax candles, herb-filled velvet pillows and other crafts for the school's upcoming Medieval Festival and Pageant, which culminates with a medieval dinner for 300 on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

'We're trying to be as authentic as possible for the dinner,' Luna says. 'There won't be any silverware, and we'll have turkey legs to eat and things like carrots. No ale, but we will have cider.'

Students involved in the months-long project say they've learned a lot about the Middle Ages.

'It wasn't magnificent like you see in the movies,' says Ashley Amthor, 13, a Corbett eighth-grader. 'It was dirty and dangerous and castles weren't all that great.'

And what would Amthor and her peers be doing if they were living in, say, seventh century Europe?

'Probably we'd be sewing,' says Emma Storck, 14. 'Girls couldn't have fun. They had to make their own clothes and things.'

'And we'd probably be married with babies,' adds Kate Matheson, 12. 'The girls got married young, usually by 14.'

Boys didn't have it too much better, the Corbett students add.

'I'd probably be farming,' says Cole Ceciliani, 14, when asked what he thought he'd be doing during the Middle Ages.

'I'd play the lute,' adds Ceciliani's classmate, 15-year-old Colby Schmackenberg, as he pounds a design into leather. 'I'd be a traveling lute player!'

Alex Cicerich, 12, a seventh-grader at Corbett, says the history lessons 'are pretty cool.'

'We get a chance to experience the medieval life and how they lived and the hardships they went through,' Cicerich says.

'I got to make a sword out of wood. That was really cool,' adds Seth Payton, 13.

The Corbett history lesson doesn't end inside this Gorge-side community. Luna says several students will have a chance to explore Italy this spring to see examples of medieval architecture and art. 'Before the trip, we'll have a daytime Renaissance Fair at the school,' Luna adds. 'And, in two years, we'll repeat the Medieval Festival and banquet.'