Students at Patapsco Middle School are making a television documentary about the devastating flood of 1868, using the Patapsco Female Institute, the B&O; Railroad Station Museum, and footage from last summer's Midwest floods to illustrate the historic local disaster.
"It's bringing history to life," said Kathy Unrath, a resource teacher who works with students in the Ellicott City school's gifted and talented program. "The learning becomes more real to them."
More than 75 students in grades six, seven and eight are making the video docudrama about the flood, which struck what was then the town of Daniels near the Patapsco River in Ellicott City and left at least 24 people dead.
The video is part of a continuing project by the school to restore and preserve Ellicott City's St. Paul's Cemetery, which contains remains of some of the flood victims.
Last week, students fleshed out the show's main characters and learned techniques for acting in front of the camera.
"I'm hoping this will be a permanent contribution to our society," said Katherine Potocki, the eighth-grade social studies teacher who started the preservation project four years ago.
At that time, a group of eighth-graders from Patapsco Middle School began restoring the historic cemetery. That award-winning project resulted in a county law protecting historic cemeteries from development.
Students writing and producing the half-hour show tracing their research on the cemetery and the 1868 flood hope to air it next fall on Channel 6, a local public access cable channel.
In the meantime, they are writing the script and learning acting techniques from Judy Templeton, performing arts mentor and TV producer. They also will edit the show with assistance from professional camera operators and producers.
"We want students to have a real-world experience working alongside editors and cameramen," Ms. Unrath said.
Eighth-grade students in the school's gifted and talented English and social studies classes are writing the script.
Performing arts students are learning how to act and videotape the documentary.
The hardest part, some students say, will be re-creating the flood.
"It's really dramatic," eighth-grader Ladan Fakory said of the flood.
"A lot of little kids died," he continued. "People were jumping from rooftop to rooftop and houses were washed away."
To simulate close-ups of collapsing homes, students said they may use construction paper and gym mats. For background scenes, they plan to use footage of this year's Midwest floods and the ruins at Daniels and the Patapsco Female Institute in Historic Ellicott City.
Creating characters is another challenge, as the students use information from historical documents and their own imaginations.
"We have to improvise for how characters will act," said eighth-grader Chad Petri, whose most challenging script assignments up to now have been puppet shows and writing plays for English class.
Although the project is far from finished, students say they already have learned the importance of history.
"It helps us learn about the past, and the past can help you learn about the future," said eighth-grader Brooke Templeton.