NORTH STONINGTON — Third-grade students at North Stonington Elementary School delivered a harsh reprimand to Benedict Arnold on Monday for his role in the Sept. 6, 1781 burning of New London.
Dressed in improvised bonnets or tricorne hats, Karen Lungren’s third-grade class acted out the history of Arnold’s traitorous acts durinAmerican Revolution and sang about the events using rewritten lyrics to tunes such as “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “New York, New York.”
Ethan Brelsford, a 9-year-old who played Benedict Arnold, said he hoped the audience would never forget the history of his character.
“His name means traitor,” Brelsford said. “I want them to remember the songs and the history.”
The songs were part of the play, “New London, New London,” one of three history-related pieces that will be performed Wednesday by the school’s third-graders under the direction of artist-in-residence Carol Glynn, of Niantic, who wrote the plays and lyrics and created the stage design, props and costumes.
The other two plays were “Charter Oak,” about the legend of the Charter Oak in Hartford,” performed by Marilyn Kiddy’s class, and “Lantern Hill,” about the history of Lantern Hill, performed by Carly Buehler’s class.
All three plays were designed to dovetail with the third graders’ social studies curriculum on Connecticut history.
Lungren, who coordinated the program, said the plays provide her students with a powerful vehicle to learn history in a hands-on way.
“It brings history to life for them. It makes it real for them because they’re leaning about the characters and what they said and did,” she said. “I think it helps all the students just realize that they were real people and we’re not just reading this out of a book.”
The plays’ focus on local history is one of the positive features of the program, said Buehler, a graduate of North Stonington Middle School and Wheeler High School.
“We did a history unit on Connecticut history this year, so it’s great for them to learn about the history of their area,” she said. “I also think it builds confidence because they’re practicing to speaking out loud on the stage.”
Glynn, a Master Teaching Artist with the State of Connecticut who has written a book about kinesthetic learning, has taught the three plays to the school’s third graders for about eight years, said Michael Noonan. Noonan is the school’s music director and accompanies the students’ performances on the piano.
“The teachers like to rotate so they don’t have the same play each year,” he said. “But the excitement is always there every single year and that’s because of the teachers and especially Carol.”
Every year the second-grade class watches the third graders’ performance, which has become part of the tradition, Noonan said.
“The second-graders will do the plays the following year. That gives them something to look forward to,” he said.
The program was sponsored by the North Stonington Elementary PTO, which matches an anonymous annual donation each year to cover the costs of the production.
North Stonington Elementary Principal Veronica Wilkison said Glynn’s techniques were highly effective in teaching local history to children.
“Can you imagine as a kid, learning about history and being able to present it in a play with music and costumes? The kids will never forget this, it’s just so valuable,” she said. “They’re learning how to present, how to be on stage, but they’re also learning about their local town and the legends and lores of the area.”
Charles Steinhart, an eight-year-old in Lungren’s class, said he liked being on stage and wanted the audience to know about the local history told in the plays.
“I think it’s really cool and kind of funny because you get to play people and you get to have fun with your friends,” he said. “And, I want the audience to remember the stuff that was important.”