Monday, October 11, 1999

School programs bring riverboat era to life

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As the sun created silhouettes against the floor, 12 perfectly poised dancers at Cincinnati's School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) waited for music.

        “What's a cake walk?,” one student asked.

        Instructor Elaine Eckstein quickly gave the young dancers a lesson on the riverboat era that created the dance they were trying to perfect.

        “It was a dance that mid-19th century slaves did to mock their owners,” she said. “But the owners never knew that, so they started doing it, too. And they'd reward the best dancer with a cake — that's where the name comes from.”

  • When: Wednesday through Sunday.
  • Where: The riverfront in Cincinnati, Covington and Newport.
  • Tickets: Daily general admission $5; free to children 12 and under. Half-price general admission tickets are available at 95 area Kroger stores until Tuesday.
  Cruises: $17.50-$60; $12-$60 ages 3-12. Early morning boat tours: $15, $5 children 3-12.
  Cruise and tour tickets available by phone from Ticketmaster, 562-4949, or visit Music Hall box office, 1241 Elm St., or the Aronoff Center for the Arts box office, Sixth and Walnut streets, downtown.
  • Information:
        That's the type of historical interlude that attracts Ms. Eckstein to a curriculum program designed to whet youngsters' interest in Tall Stacks '99.

        Tall Stacks '99 — the quadrennial gathering Wednesday through Sunday of 19 riverboats on Cincinnati's riverfront expected to draw 850,000 visitors — is the country's largest riverboat showcase.

        The Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Commission crafted the curriculum program to help students learn about the event.

        One of 25 Tristate schools participating, SCPA has four troupes of students creating ways to teach about the era to classmates and students from other schools.

        SCPA is exploring the culture — the music, entertainment and architecture — of the time.

        Other categories available to participating schools are:

        • Rivers — the waterway's ecology and geography.

        • Boats — steam technology and boat building.

        • Moving — workers, passengers and cargo on a river boat.

        • Perspectives — myths and realities of the era.

  Tall Stacks '99 can spark lessons in science, math, social studies, writing and the fine arts. Here are ways to bring the riverboat era into the classroom:
  • Write a journal about an Ohio River voyage using research to log details about cities and geography, similar to how a captain would track a trip.
  • Create trays of water blown by a fan to illustrate a river's current, show ing the difficulty of traveling upriver and the importance of the manufacture of steam-driven, paddle-wheel boats.
  • Study folklore and the oral storytelling traditions found aboard riverboats.
  For more information:
  Source: The Greater Cincinnati Tall Stacks Commission
        Tall Stacks officials also contacted five schools outside the Tristate in cities with riverboat histories to line up students to participate by Internet.

        “Learning like this makes an infinite difference because you're involved in the era as much as you possibly can (be),” said Daniel Vogel-Essex, 16, who juggles wooden pine knots in one of SCPA's riverboat-era cultural presentations.

        A lesson's impact is stronger and reaches more students when they participate in hands-on activities, said Dottie Howe, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.

        Joy Fowler, SCPA's creative writing director, is leading a troupe of students re-enacting a day in an 1860s classroom. The Tall Stacks program “gives children an in-depth connection with the material they are learning,” she said.

        “I've taken the (Tall Stacks) tour before, but now I'll respect it more and get more from it,” said David Grohs, 15, who is performing yo-yo tricks in the classroom re-en actment.

        The 26 students ages 5-18 in Ms. Fowler's troupe made their costumes.

        “It brings history alive and real when you take the time to sew the clothes from museum patterns,” Ms. Fowler said.

        “You feel what it's like to be in that era.”

        It took six days for 12-year-old Christopher Matey, to sew his off-white, collarless shirt — authentic down to the buttons.

        “It's pretty neat,” he said. “You get really involved in (the era).”

        At Sands Montessori in the West End, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders are creating a 40-foot time line of the riverboat era.

        “The students are able to retain and understand the information at a deeper level,” said Judy Naim, a Sands teacher coordinating the Tall Stacks program.


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