Tejeda Middle School-Welcome to the Den

History on a Hill

By Mc Nelly Torres
San Antonio Express-News
Imagine an outdoor place where young minds feel, touch and experience history as it unfolds, and can travel through ancient Rome, medieval times and the American frontier.

Students on History Hill
Joelia Smith, from the Alamo Lore and Myth Organization, talks with students at Tejeda Middle School as they gather at History Hill, in back of the school
Jerry Lara/Express-News

Student wearing knights helmut Cameron, 12, tries on knights helmut and gloves at Tejeda Middle School's History Hill. The school developed an area in back of the property in order to teach history through reenactments.
Jerry Lara/Express-News

This was the vision shared by teachers, students and parents at Tejeda Middle School when they embarked on an adventure they named History Hill.

This North East School District community slowly turned a corner of the school grounds into a historical outdoor learning area where all the periods and places taught in middle school — world, American and Texas history — could be visited.

"We wanted to create an environment so history is taught in a unique and meaningful way," said Heidi Dye, the school's social studies department chair.

Research has shown that students must make a connection with information for learning to occur. Making history come to life is one way to accomplish this, the 13-year teacher said.

"When you relate to something that is real life, you can cement those lessons and they won't forget it," Dye said.

Debora Marzec, a parent volunteer, led a committee to clean and map out areas of the hill behind the school to create a colorful Roman road and village, a Greek garden, an archeological site and a prehistoric stone circle.

Students researched plants and herbs to create the Greek garden, cultivating medicinal plants that were used during the time of Hippocrates, including several olive trees donated by a local business.

"Olive was an important plant because it was used for food, lighting, heating and soap among other things," Marzec said.

Students designed a garden where they are growing roses, mints, aloe, garlic, parsley and other herbs.

"Students have researched the plants used at the time so they got an understanding about them," Marzec said.

Students also used broken ceramic tiles to create a mosaic with an array of designs and colors — all neatly displayed on a stone fence that surrounds a bench where students talk about the era or participate in hands-on experience.

They've planned to convert a drainage area into a river that flows next to the Greek garden.

Wearing medieval dress, 12-year-old Elizabeth Marzec demonstrated to classmates how people made brass rubbings.

Last year, the school held its first history fair in April. To help inaugurate what is planned to be an annual event, the school invited groups of re-enactors from different eras, including Alamo Lore and Myth, a group that re-enacts the Alamo battle and life at the frontier.

"They have more knowledge about their particular era than any book," Debora Marzec said.

Re-enactor Nathan Jones, of the Society of Creative Anachronisms, brought chickens common in western Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance to show students how the different breeds have evolved with time. SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating pre-17th century European history.

"Chickens are universal, and it wasn't until last century that we stopped raising chickens in our back yards," Jones said. "So I talk to them about the breeds and how they descended from the chickens of that era."

School officials plan to add more historical landmarks, including a pavilion, a castle and a Cold War-era Checkpoint Charlie. And they also hope to open History Hill to elementary schools.