WEST CALDWELL, NJ - Bed sheets and blankets are not the normal attire for teenagers, but on Monday, Jan. 13, visitors to Grover Cleveland Middle School, Caldwell, were welcomed by eighth-grade students draped in sheets with grape leaf crowns, shouting "To-ga! To-ga!"
For the day at least, bed sheets were the school uniform. A long-standing tradition at the middle school, Toga Day requires students to dress in the traditional garments worn by ancient Romans. Currently led by eighth-grade social studies teachers Trevor McLaughlin and Elizabeth Strangeway, the tradition is a great example of experiential learning.
“Toga Day served as a culminating event for my class,” said McLaughlin.
“It gives students an idea of what type of clothing the Ancient Romans would wear on a daily basis, and the tradition serves to disprove the misconception that the Ancient Greeks wore togas, when, in fact, Ancient Rome made this fashion famous.”
The day is more than just togas, however, and includes a variety of activities and discussions surrounding the fall of the Roman Empire. In McLaughlin’s class, students use a traditional building block game to symbolize the fall of Rome. After reading 42 reasons historians give for the Fall of Rome, each student selects what he or she believes to be the one reason that had the greatest impact on the end of Ancient Rome. Each student justifies his or her choice, and after giving a valid explanation, removes a block from the tower. The class then waits to see which reason actually topples the block tower.
“Giving students the opportunity to engage with and conceptualize history in a new way is always a goal of ours,” said Strangeway.
Of course, students can’t resist a few shouts of "To-ga! To-ga! To-ga!" in the hallway, but watching an entire grade walk the halls with bed sheets draped around their shoulders, speaking about the fall of the Roman Empire, make Toga Day a success.