Classroom of the Week: C.T. Plunkett fifth-grade finishes monumental project

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ADAMS — The walls were up, the inhabitants were placed and the scene was set on Thursday night as the fifth-grade students of C.T. Plunkett Elementary School unveiled their replicas of Fort Massachusetts, at the school's annual spring art show.

Their work was prominently displayed near the entrance of the main exhibit room (the school's cafeteria), and received comments and pause from almost every visitor who stopped by. 

"I feel prideful," said fifth-grader Taydum Gregory.

For nearly half the school year, the students — under the guidance of art teacher Terri Cooper, and history lessons volunteered by community member, Wendy Champney, a retired drafting teacher — learned about the history of Fort Massachusetts and created various projects based on their research. Built in 1745, the 60-by-60-foot structure was seized on Aug. 19, 1746, by nearly 900 French soldiers and Native American scouts. The attackers were stunned by the fact that it was defended only by 22 men, three women and five children, many whom were sick.

The fort eventually fell into disrepair, and was replaced by a replica in the 1930s, which too met its demise. All that remains is a chimney from the replica on the original footprint of the fort, visible in the corner of the vacant parking lot of the former Price Chopper supermarket and Friendly's restaurant on State Road in North Adams.

In addition to the replicas — crafted with panels of pasted ice pop sticks, and filled with clay people, painted cork barrels, and fiber thatching — the students worked with Northern Berkshire Community Television's Education Access Coordinator Joanne Hurlbut, Kristen Wright-Scott, Champney and Cooper to create a video about the history of the fort and current efforts to preserve what's left of the site and land once associated with its existence.

"They did a good job," said Hurlbut, who noted that the Fort Massachusetts project has been filmed with some of the station's new equipment. "I'm learning, they're learning, we've had a good time."

The students' video will air throughout the month on NBCTV's Channel 16, and Hulburt is currently composing a video collage of the classes' process in creating these projects, from start to finish.

Cooper and Champney will also be honoring the students in May for their work and persistence.

It wasn't always easy, the students said, saying that making the video felt a little "embarrassing." But, as fifth-grader Ashley McClellan noted, the project "shows that it's not hard to do a lot of stuff when you're working together. Plus, people should know about the history in their world."

McClellan said students always look forward to the art show, but that this year's special exhibit allowed them to "get deeper into" the work that they showed.

Several of the fifth-graders also volunteered to help with other aspects of the evening, including welcoming guests and running a face painting station.

"It's really nice to see their work displayed and to see other classes from other grades," said Erin Breen as she watched fifth-grader Alonna Ziarnik paint a unicorn on the face of her first-grade daughter, Lillyana Malloy.

Fifth-grader Nicholas Pompi showed off his team's replica to his proud parents, Chris and Jill Pompi, saying he particularly enjoyed learning about the history of Adams and the techniques behind building a replica to scale.

"I just think this is outstanding, superb. They did a great job," Nicholas' father said.

Teacher Terri Cooper admitted the project, in addition to setting up the art show was a lot of work, and hit some "rocky points," but still felt worth it. She said, "It's really nice to see it come together, and know that they students have pride in what they did."

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