South Orangetown Central School District

First graders in William O. Schaefer Elementary School Rachel Yelin’s class recently learned about the history of Camp Shanks and Shanks Village with special guest John Gray as part of their archaeology enrichment unit. Gray helps run the Camp Shanks Museum in Orangeburg, which commemorates the largest World War II embarkation camp on America’s East Coast. 

WOS RTI/Enrichment teacher Robin Courtwright introduced first grade classes to the work of being an archaeologist or “detective of the past.” “This project focused on both problem-based learning and place-based inquiry,” explained Courtwright. “We first began by learning about the land around the school and what communities were here before WOS was built. There is a fascinating history of the land where our school now stands,” said Courtwright. 

 K-5 Instructional Literacy Coach Kristy Nadler worked with the Camp Shanks Museum to organize the visit from an expert to share artifacts and answer questions. Gray spoke about Shanks Village and told students about what life looked like here during the 1940s and 1950s. 

Courtwright created a simulated archaeology dig site, which included artifacts that could have been found during that time including coins, buttons, toys and a trophy. As students discovered various artifacts, they asked Gray questions about their findings. After completing the dig, students had to choose one artifact that they found and catalog it in their field notebooks. They completed sketches and added what they noticed about the object, what it could have been used for, and questions they have about it.

“They’re making connections to the visual timeline we created as we travel back even further in time to when European Settlers arrived and met the Lenape Tappan community, which first lived here over 1000 years ago,” Courtwright noted. “In our next lesson, we’ll discuss the Lenape community today and how communities change over time and honor their traditions. Our students have been asking what we should do with the artifacts we discover…many think we should create a museum at our school!”

Archaeology lesson at WOS