American Presidents

Andrew Jackson
Teaching Martin Van Buren in the Classroom

This teaching idea is provided by Jane Miller from Martin Van Buren Elementary School in Kinderhook, NY.

The Ichabod Crane Central School District is a small school system located in the Hudson Valley community of Kinderhook, New York. It is a school district of approximately 2,000 students, and is comprised of five schools, one of which is the Martin Van Buren Elementary School. The elementary school is a wonderful two story 'older' brick building which houses approximately 275 students and is located in the tiny village of Kinderhook.

Each year, with the assistance of the National Park Service at Lindenwald and the Friends of Lindenwald, our school takes part in a 'birthday bash' for Matty Van which begins with a gravesite ceremony honoring Martin Van Buren and culminates in a wonderful birthday party of cake and cider at the Martin Van Buren School. This event has become a welcome tradition to our students, staff, and parents.

It began back in 1976 when our school, along with the entire country, was celebrating the nation's bicentennial. Approximately 250 students, along with their teachers and other staff, all dressed in 18th century garb and attended their first birthday celebration. An important part of the ceremony is the presentation of a speech about Martin Van Buren, written and delivered by one of our 4th grade students.

Those of us who have participated in this event each year recognize it as an important one for our students. Not only is it a vehicle for allowing students to gain understanding and knowledge of one of our nation's most important leaders, Martin Van Buren, it also reinforces the meaning and importance of the concepts of citizenship and community.

Each year students and staff from the school community, members of the local community, as well as representatives from the state and national governments mingle together at the gravesite. We are reinforcing the concept of community and honoring a particular citizen who gave the majority of his public life to the service of community. This is a lesson we must teach.

The Martin Van Buren Gravesite Ceremony is just one activity in which our school has participated to learn about Martin Van Buren. Other activities have included the National Park Service Junior Ranger program. This program is one in which our fourth grade students have taken part. It involves working closely with a national park ranger to develop a research project about the president.

Teaching the students is done jointly, by both the teacher/librarian and the park ranger. It involves the teaching and use of both primary and secondary sources to create some type of art project, such as a diorama depicting a scene from the president's life, and/or written report. Successful completion of the project results in membership to the junior ranger program and a special junior ranger badge. A picnic at Lindenwald with a presentation of the projects is the culminating activity.

One other project which students have taken part in is the performance of a skit or play about Martin Van Buren's life. In 1991, fourth grade students at Martin Van Buren School performed a musical about the life and times of Martin Van Buren. "Martin Van Buren-the Musical" was a three act play which was written by a park ranger from Martin Van Buren National Historic Site. Not only did the students perform, they also researched the characters they played. These fourth graders, who are now high school seniors, still recall, with fond memories, their participation.

Created by America's Cable Companies.