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Hitting the Road to History

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When Elaine Capobianco's 5th graders studied the Underground Railroad this spring they did more than crack the books--they hit the road.

Ms. Capobianco, who teaches at Charles Sumner School in Boston, in early April took 28 of her students on an 11-day journey to Washington, D.C., the Carolinas, and West Virginia, retracing a route that thousands of slaves followed to freedom in the North in the years before the Civil War.

Thanks to funds from a Christa McAuliffe fellowship Ms. Capobianco received, the students traveled in relative luxury by bus and train, accompanied by several chaperones, a National Park Service guide, and a nurse.

Along the way, students practiced the skills that escaped slaves depended on for their journeys north. In the Great Smoky Mountains, they located the North Star, commonly used as a nighttime guide to the free states. Using investigative-reporting techniques, students discovered a little-known "safe house'' in Cadiz, Ohio.

The students also got a taste of Southern hospitality from 5th-grade students at Fort Mill (S.C.) Elementary School. Together, the students toured the historical sites and examined Confederate memorabilia in nearby Columbia.

The two classes also exchanged handmade quilts they created during their Civil War studies. According to Principal Chuck Epps of Fort Mill Elementary, slaves created visual histories through their quilts. The Fort Mill students recreated this custom with their own quilt that includes images of the South Carolina Statehouse, a portrait of Confederate Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, and a Confederate flag.

The Sumner School students will play host to their Southern counterparts when they tour Boston next month.--S.K.G.

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