SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Glenn Miller, Tommy Doresey and Bing Crosby topped the music charts in the 1940s. These are names that are foreign to today's tech-savvy tweens that cut their teeth on iPhones and social media while listening to Taylor Swift's laments. However, sixth graders at the Memorial Middle School got a taste of what life was like in the 1940s on November 22 as their Language Arts classes took a step back in time.
Memorial Middle School Language Arts teachers Adrienne Hansen and Patricia Cella decided to turn the clock back for their sixth grade students to bring literature to life.
"We are reading a book in class titled "Summer of My German Soldier," said Hansen. "This text is set in the 1940s. In order to foster and embrace the 1940s, we make it come to life in the classroom!"
"Summer of my German Soldier" was written by Bette Greene. The fictional novel was first published in 1973. Its plot centers around a 12 year old Jewish girl who befriends an escaped German POW in Arkansas in 1940, hiding him in a secret room above her father's garage.
In preparation for the November 22 1940s Day, Hansen's Language Arts classes viewed a 30 minute interview with the veteran teacher's aunt the day before. Hansen's aunt, Helen Izzi was in her early twenties in the 1940s and visited Memorial last year when she was 94 to answer student's questions about what life was like without iPads, cell phones and video games. Izzi is now 95 and doing well, but a bit too frail to make the trip to Memorial.
"She answered any and all questions that they had," Hansen explained about her aunt's visit the previous fall. "She talked about her role as an air warden in her neighborhood and the late hours that she spent at Merck helping the war effort. She also remembered her neighbors eating dog food because they could not afford food. She also discussed what they would do for fun and how important schooling was."
Sixth grader Shane Thaisz was impressed with how articulate Izzi was in the video with the details she shared about her life back then.
To celebrate 1940s Day, students were invited to wear forties style clothes. A couple of female students donned dresses and pearls. One student wore a tie and another had a fedora hat. As each student arrived for class, Hansen gave every boy and girl a new name for the double class period. Names like David, Joseph, Nancy, Sandra, Mary and George were top names back then.
Hansen then got an hours worth of popular 1940s activities rolling with coloring. Students were given pictures relevant to the era like Rosie the Riveter to color with crayons since only crayons were available at that time. While the students colored, Hansen read Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hatches the Egg." The children's story was published in 1940.
The kids then played checkers, telephone and the mystery bag game. Finally, Hansen played top tunes from the 1940s. Dancing was optional.
In addition to taking a step away from everyday lessons, Hansen feels activities like 1940s Day "makes the text relevant" to students.
"Some of the references (at first) are incomprehensible," Hansen said. "However, when they engage in activities from the 1940s, they quickly realize that fun was still to be had, without video games and color TV."