Mantua – It may be 2016, but at the Crestwood High School, you’ll find students living like they did in the 1800s. That’s because at Frontier Days, students from the school’s Academy I class are sharing what they’ve learned this year about life on the frontier. Working along with living history reenactors, professional blacksmiths, leather workers, and historians, students created a frontier village, offering living vignettes, including an Native American village, military camp, and frontier cabin, on a modern-day trip back to eighteenth century Ohio.

During the class, male students can choose to be frontier settlers, militia, or Native Americans. For class, just as in that time period, women’s options were more limited; they could choose to be either white women or native women. The integrated learning program combined history, science and journalism, creating an opportunity for students to learn by doing. Through the experience, all students learned hunting, fishing, archery, how to make bullets and cartridges and to shoot a muzzle-loader. In addition, they learn to tan an animal hide, sew by hand, and cook outdoors over an open flame. For fun, they also participate period-correct games and activities.

CHS history teacher Angus McDougall credits the smaller, rural school district and the local community’s “down home sensibilities” with helping sustain the program, which is now in its fifth year. He shared, “You couldn’t have a program like this anywhere else.” Science teacher Andy Brown, added, “By far, the best part is the community support we receive. I’ve talked to many people, and if they couldn’t help, they gave me the names of ten other people who might be able to.” The trio urges the community to visit the settlement this week. “This is great stuff!” Mr. McDougall marveled. “This is the culmination of what they’ve worked on all year,” he beamed. “Come see what our kids have done!”

“It’s really enjoyable to get young people involved in historical reenactments like this,” shared retired teacher Peg Francisco, who goes by the camp name Dancing Weasel. Ms. Francisco served as an advisor for students on the Indian life, which included helping the students’ hand-sew period-appropriate costumes using wool, beads, and animal hides they tanned themselves. Crestwood senior, Amanda explained, “Academy I incorporates history and English, since we create our character’s back story and document our experiences throughout the year.” Her ‘camp name’ was Maahla, which means ‘feminine power’, while her fellow Indian, Amber chose the name Shenandoah, which means ‘beautiful daughter of the stars.’ They were among the seven female students who chose to be  Native Americans this term. The remaining four girls in the class chose to portray white women.

Throughout each day on the frontier, students are given a series of tasks to complete. In the Native American area, students started by preparing venison stew over a fire, honoring the Native American tradition of welcoming visitors to camp with food and drink. That afternoon, they learned to play a game called batgataway, a precursor to the game of lacrosse. Later, they set traps for beaver, learn to portage a canoe, work on their native dancing, and cook succotash and squash for a traditional meal to serve that evening. Shelters, including a teepee and a wooden lean-to shelter, covered with student-processed furs and hides, completed the realistic scene.

Nearby, a ‘frontiersman’ named Nate braided a leather halter for a horse, which students had the opportunity to ride later that day. He joined Clayton, Frank, and Adam, who were busy crafting leather sheaths for their cutting tools while others used period tools to make wooden shingles for the cabin roof.

According to Mr. Brown, having students learn to trap, track and fish helps them quantify the changes in Ohio’s ecosystem during the last quarter millennium. In addition, through the class, students participate in citizen science programs like the Christmas Bird Count and learn water testing and fish identification skills with the EPA and the Department of Wildlife.

Period reenactor group, the Ramrod Busters were on hand to share their expertise with the 27 students who worked on this college-level curriculum this school year. In addition, this past Saturday, 24 CHS Academy alumni returned, dressed in period-appropriate garb to join in the days activities. “I’ve never seen so many past graduates return for another program,” marveled Katylyn Kuchta, CHS English teacher. “Through the Academy, you sort of become a family.”

CHS senior Sam Oliphant echoes this sentiment. “The amount of cooperation has helped me with my interpersonal abilities. Second to band, this is my school family.” He continued,  “I think the Academy is the best class offered at Crestwood High School. It puts students in real world situations and forces us to think for ourselves. It has shown me how to see ties between all the disciplines (science, history and English) and actually appreciate all of the disciplines instead of only seeing the benefits of the ones I like the most,” he concluded.

Initially, the Academy was rather intimidating,” admitted CHS senior Clayton Jackson, “but it has definitely paid off in the long run.” Mr. Jackson continued, “It’s been the class that has most prepared me for college by challenging me with upper levels reading and teaching me to write in different styles and formats. Through the cross curricular aspect of Academy, I have learned to see the connections between the different courses, which has allowed me to make stronger arguments both in public speaking and in writing. Most importantly, though, the Academy creates friendships that will potentially last a lifetime,” he explained.

Junior Melody Bencie added, “My time in the American Experience Academy has been incredible. Having three classes within one has helped me to connect the three very different areas of study. As for the teachers, I feel that Mr. McDougall, Mr. Brown and Ms. Kuchta taught us many lessons, both academically, and life lessons, by helping us to become capable young adults. Because of my experience with the Academy, I am much more confident in myself and in my future,” she beamed.

In Academy II, the science-based learning focuses on logical thinking and finding ways to positively impact the local community. In this class, students have planned to build an aquaponic greenhouse, where fish would be ‘farmed’ alongside hydroponic produce. As a part of the class, students have researched what would be required and developed a budget. They have selected an ideal location on the school campus where the greenhouse would be located. Currently, they’re working on fundraisers and applying for grants to begin the project, which when in operation, will provide food for local community organizations.

According to Crestwood Superintendent David Toth, “I believe the Academy classes are an example of authentic hands on learning.  The project-based learning that takes place in these classes is indicative of the future of education.” He expounded, “Students need to be able to problem solve and critically analyze a situation for the careers of the future, and these classes are based on those principles.”  The English portion of the program, however, will not be included next year.

“Declines in enrollment,” stated Mr. Toth, “have had an impact on staffing, programming, and operations throughout the District. But the fact that English will no longer be offered via the Academy classes was not only an enrollment decision but more of a curricular decision,” he explained. After reviewing the English portion of the program, it was decided that, “other courses offered at the high school, provide would provide more rigor to prepare our students to succeed after high school, and the Academy courses align better to the science and social studies content standards.” Mr. Toth concluded.

Earlier this week, elementary students from Crestwood, Garfield, Ravenna, Streetsboro, Kent, and Marietta experienced Frontier Days on field trips to Crestwood High School. On Thursday, May 12th, the American Experience Academy will host ‘Funders Day,’ where local businesses and grantors will be welcomed to take part in this year’s Frontier Days, as well. For more information, visit:, call (330) 357-8205, or email