Special to The Union
In a time of declining enrollment and budget cuts, the Nevada City School District continues a tradition providing rich curriculum and living history. Every year, starting in January, seventh-grade students at Seven Hills Middle School begin a unit of study on the Medieval times. For three months, the seventh-graders live and breathe the Middle Ages. The lesson culminated Tuesday in a lavish Medieval feast at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center.
Each of the three humanities classes is a kingdom with a king and queen. Students who want to be king battle it out over chess at lunch until there is a winner for each kingdom. The queen is chosen in a test of wits with the candidates undergoing a series of questions on the roles of noble women in the Middle Ages. The student with the most correct answers becomes queen.
The kingdoms also study the role of the church in Medieval times, and a Pope is chosen at a secret conclave of cardinals selected from each kingdom. As an added bonus, this year’s Seven Hills Papal Conclave took place at the same time as the Papal Conclave this week at the Vatican to select the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis of Argentina.
The remaining roles — from the nobility to the lowly serfs — are selected at random by pulling names from a hat. The court sits at the head of the class, and the serfs wait on them. Throughout the three months, the serfs will get few privileges, while working hard to please their overlords.
The high point of the three months is the Medieval feast at the Miners Foundry. Students research and create their own costumes to fit their roles. Maidens in the court will wear beautiful, flowing gowns, and knights will proudly wear the colors of their kingdom. Students then enter the Stone Hall and step back in time with a full day of tournaments, games, medieval dancing and a royal feast.
The Medieval unit also studies the Black Death, a terrible plague that decimated populations all across Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries.
In the end, the seventh-graders at Seven Hills Middle School will have gotten first-hand knowledge of the Medieval feudal system, the customs and traditions of the time and the fear of the plague. The experience will be something the students will remember and carry with them throughout their educational careers.
Carol White is a parent volunteer for the Nevada City School District.
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