Viola Gibson students wrap up Great Depression unit with hobo lunch

Viola Gibson fourth grader Ben Bjornsen listens as school principal Kevin Uhde plays guitar during the first annual Hobo Lunch at the school on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010, in Cedar Rapids. Fourth graders at the school have been studying the Great Depression, and dressed as hoboes, sang hobo songs and ate a typical meal of meat, potatoes and vegetables for a culmination to the unit. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Ben Bjornsen picked at the food in the foil packet, separating the beef from the carrots and potatoes.

“It’s disgusting,” the Viola Gibson Elementary School fourth grader said.

What if it was the only food available? For several days?

“Then I’d eat it all,” Ben, 9, said.

The meal, termed a ‘hobo pack’ by the school’s fourth grade teachers, was a hands-on wrap-up of the Great Depression social studies unit.

“The goal of the unit was for the students to have a deeper understanding of the Great Depression and how it affected our culture,” said Stephen Probert, a fourth grade teacher.

Viola Gibson fourth grader Kassidy Lovig eats a lunch of meat, potatoes and vegetables during the first annual Hobo Lunch at the school on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010, in Cedar Rapids.(Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

Using the Cedar Rapids school district’s new “Bringing History Home” elementary social studies curriculum, Viola Gibson teachers brought the Great Depression to life through books, movies, pictures and music. The theme of the was hands-on  learning, finding ways to make the lessons relevant so students will want to know more.

This included watching clips of The Grapes of Wrath, analyzing photographs to determine what it was like to live in the Dust Bowl and constructing a timeline detailing important events. On Tuesday, the students traveled to West Branch to visit to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Still, the teachers wanted their students to become immersed in the time period in a real way, so the teaching team focused their studies on the era’s traveling workers – hobos.

Did you know hobos have a national anthem and their own language? Did you know hobos looked out for each other, letting others know on their travels what towns had work and other to avoid?

“They cared about each other,” said Kassidy Lovig, 10. “If somebody offered them money, they wouldn’t take all of it in case somebody else needed it more.”

“At first, I thought hobos were like bums, they were sitting around being lazy, but they were willing to work hard for food,” said Ben Koester, 10. “They took trains to places that had work so they could eat.”

On Wednesday, that train stopped at Viola Gibson, where hobos of all sizes gathered on the playground.

Dressed in various degrees of hobo attire, from the ripped jeans and flannel shirts to sticks-and-knapsacks and drawn-on beards, the students ate their ‘hobo pack’ – some with more enthusiasm than others – and snag along with Principal Kevin Uhde, who performed several hobo songs. Later, the students decorated the blacktop with chalk symbols advising the next round of visitors of the treatment they received

“I think it was fun learning about the Great Depression because we got to watch a movie and write about it,” said Nikole Slinger, 9.

“There’s been a lot of enthusiasm for today, for everything we did in this unit,” said Deb Siebenga, fourth grade teacher. “It took a lot of work to plan it, but this is what school should be.”

Probert called the new curriculum refreshing.

“I think it increases the likelihood that the kids will remember it for the rest of their lives,” he said.

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