Public encouraged to join the audience
After a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the juniors at Denison High School (DHS) will gather at Yellow Smoke Park next Wednesday for “Rendezvous,” which is a special event organized as part of the DHS American Heritage class.
“We’re very excited to be back at Yellow Smoke this year,” said DHS social science/English language arts instructor Dave Houston.
“In 2019, we had it at the bowl soccer field (near DHS) so this will be our first time back at Yellow Smoke in three years.”
He is team teaching the class with instructor Taylor Neubauer.
The subject of the event is the westward expansion of the United States in the 1800s.
A rendezvous in the early part of that century was a meeting to which mountain men would bring their furs, and merchants from the east would bring pots, pans, kettles, gunpowder and other items the mountain men needed.
Each student is assigned a character from the era of westward expansion; they portray the characters in short performances that take place in various areas of the park.
Fifth grade students from area schools are bussed out to the park to watch the performances.
Houston said one change has been made to the program this year.
“I have 182 students and, in the past, I would have had 182 names (of characters from the era),” he said. “You start getting some pretty obscure people when you do it that way.”
This time, each class was given the same basic group of more famous names from which to choose.
“In the past, there would have been one Davy Crockett, and this year there are going to be three Davy Crocketts, but they’ll all be on different trails,” Houston said. “When the fifth graders come, they only go on one trail and they’ll only see that one trail, so they won’t see any of the others.”
The change was made to try to make sure the audience would get to see some of the more-recognizable names, such as Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and Mark Twain.
“For me, the teacher, it will be interesting because I’ll get to see the different interpretations and the different ways of presenting them,” he said. “Normally I would dread doubling up (characters) but sometimes, when it’s something like this, it lets you see different ways of doing things. I’m curious to see how it goes.”
Rendezvous is a multilevel educational project, Houston said.
“The very first thing we do is teach the research process to the kids; they all get a character and they have to research that person,” he said. “They have to cite all their sources – they have to have 30 citable facts – so we’re teaching them to give credit where credit is due and avoid plagiarism while learning about the westward expansion.”
The students gain deeper insight into the characters; they are able to share that insight later when the class discusses the material.
“Some of the kids will say, ‘Oh, I was a homesteader;’ and they’ll have some of that additional insight,” Houston said.
“That research process is the big thing. I tell the kids they’re doing the research as if they are doing a research paper – but their research paper is their performance. Then, later on in the year, we’ll take these same researching skills and actually write a paper.”
Houston said employers often look for collaboration and cooperation skills in prospective employees.
Rendezvous helps hone those skills.
“These kids are not only communicating with each other but they’re going to communicate to their audience,” Houston said
“You hope there was some learning about the characters, but the real learning has to be the cooperation.”
He encourages members of the public to attend Rendezvous and learn about some of the big names in American history and see how their tax dollars are being spent.
“And hopefully they’ll see some things they can feel proud of at a community level,” Houston said.
Tours start at the Woodland Shelter, located on Yellow Smoke Road between the two entrances to the park, and will take place from 10 to 11 a.m., 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., and 1 to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, October 13.
“If somebody from the public goes on a tour, they’re not committed to having to go on the full tour; that’s what our fifth graders do,” he said. “The public can come and drop in on skits. If there are specific kids they want to see, we’ll have a list of what trail they’re on.”
Some of the students have to work through nervousness about performing.
“For some of them, this is tough; there is some shyness that comes in, but it forces kids to step out of their shells,” Houston said.
With 182 students, Houston will be “hustling and bustling” the whole time.
“I like that – that atmosphere and that environment where it’s almost controlled chaos,” he said. “But the 11th graders usually step up and do a great job with this.”