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Showcasing Joe Cerwinsky and "A Medieval Festival"

"Our medieval festival has grown over the years and taken on a life of its own," Joe Cerwinsky told Education World. "Everyone in the school looks forward to the festival. And every year, students are amazed that they can eat with the ir fingers and not get into trouble -- with excellent table manners!"

The annual festival for third graders at Windber Area Elementary School began in 1995 as an extension of a story about medieval life that was featured in the students' reading textbook. Held in late May and organized as an "end-of-the-year" experience, the festival now involves students, teachers, parents, and support staff at the Windber, Pennsylvania, school.


Joe Cerwinsky's students turn the gym and cafeteria into medieval castles.


For about two months prior to the festival, students learn about medieval life and complete a variety of art projects, including making stained glass "windows" out of paper and creating banners to decorate the cafeteria. During the same period, parents receive information about the upcoming festival and what it will require of them. Communication with parents is essential for the success of the event, Cerwinsky said.

Other teachers share responsibility for the event as well. "Each teacher has different duties to complete leading up to the festival day," Cerwinsky pointed out. "They include, but are not limited to, creating press releases, taking pictures of the students, preparing information for the parents, and scheduling helpers for the day of the festival."

On festival day, each participant dresses in a homemade costume reflecting his or her character -- a king, queen, bishop, wizard, jester, lady of the kingdom, or knight of the kingdom. "Each classroom has a different kingdom color," explained Cerwinsky, who ruled a purple kingdom this year.

The day begins with a parade through the school, so students can show off their wonderful costumes. While other students admire the medieval characters, parents take the opportunity to snap pictures. The procession leads to the gymnasium, where the festival gets underway. "We begin the festival with a proclamation, which I have the honor of presenting," Cerwinsky said.


Cerwinsky reads a proclamation to begin the event.


Then, students are free to enjoy the many festival activities. "Currently, we offer six 35-minute stations consisting of games, dancing, checkers, sword fighting, trivia, and archery," Cerwinsky noted. "Parent volunteers assist with general supervision as classes move from one learning station to another.

When students have completed all the activity stations, they're treated to a medieval lunch in the decorated cafeteria. The menu consists of bread, milk, fruits, chicken, kolbassi [sausage], and boiled potatoes. Cookies are donated by the parents."

Although the festival is educational in nature, it has another important purpose -- to be fun! Cerwinsky considers it imperative that students enjoy themselves as they participate in the day's events. Wizards and jesters from each classroom kingdom present a program of jokes and magical tricks. Students also participate in a medieval dance before heading back to their classrooms at the end of the day.


Third grade students and teachers gather for festival activities.


Teachers don't conduct evaluations related to the activities of the medieval festival, but it is clearly an effective experience. Cerwinsky has been pleased to find that students build on this "learning-for-enjoyment" activity by investigating the topic further on their own and then sharing their findings with their classmates. The event also creates a little "history" of its own, through local media coverage.

"We have been fortunate to have television and newspaper coverage detailing our school event," added Cerwinsky. "This form of recognition goes a long way toward making this a memorable experience of the students' school years. Hopefully, the festival will be one of the many memories students will cherish."

Photos provided by Joe Cerwinsky..
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