2018-06-09 / News

Students Experience History During Trip to Colonial Michilimackinac

By Stephanie Fortino


Lakelyn Bunker kneads bread dough at Colonial Michilimackinac. (Photographs by Liz Burt) Lakelyn Bunker kneads bread dough at Colonial Michilimackinac. (Photographs by Liz Burt) Every two or three years, Mackinac Island students are treated to a memorable overnight field trip to Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City. Filled with hands-on activities, the trip offers an unprecedented opportunity for students to experience history for themselves, deepening the history lessons they’ve learned in the classroom.

From playing baggataway like Ojibwa Indians to making bread by hand like the people who once lived at Fort Michilimackinac, the students received an intensive lesson in Straits of Mackinac history while having fun during the latest trip, Thursday, May 24, to Friday, May 25.

Eighteen students in fourth grade through sixth grade participated. They were led by Piotr Buniewicz, who teaches language arts and history, and Liz Burt, who teaches mathematics and science. Before they started working at Mackinac Island Public School, both Mr. Buniewicz and Mrs. Burt worked as historic interpreters for Mackinac State Historic Parks.


A happy soldier, indeed. Megan Cotton as a British soldier at Fort Michilimackinac. A happy soldier, indeed. Megan Cotton as a British soldier at Fort Michilimackinac. “It is just the greatest field trip ever,” Mr. Buniewicz told the Town Crier. “From the moment we step foot at the Visitors Center, the kids are constantly dressed up or have their hands dirty. It’s them living history. It’s everything.”

Providing such hands-on experiences to students supplements the school curriculum, as it touches on important conflicts such as the Revolutionary War and Pontiac’s Rebellion and teaches the importance of the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan history. The students all have a background in Michigan and United State history, which is interpreted and presented at Colonial Michilimackinac.


Ottilia Styburski practices her sweeping skills. Ottilia Styburski practices her sweeping skills. “They can tie in what they learn in the classroom,” Mr. Buniewicz said. “For an educator, it is the holy grail. It is just awesome.”

The students donned red coats to feel what it was like to be a British soldier in the 1700s. They also learned how march in formation and perform military drills. On the domestic front, the students baked bread and cleaned in the reconstructed buildings, just as the wives and children of merchants and soldiers did when the fort was active more than 300 years ago.

They also learned about the French-Canadian voyageurs and the trips they’d make from Montreal to Mackinac and back again. They practiced carrying items the way voyageurs did as they portaged around waterfalls and rapids. They tended to the fort gardens, as well, and learned about the medicinal and food plants grown there centuries ago.


At right: Adreana Polzin sweeps debris from her rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. At right: Adreana Polzin sweeps debris from her rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. The trip featured leisure activities such as dancing and baggataway, which is an Ojibwa game similar to lacrosse. The students carried their own mattresses to their sleeping quarters and spent the night inside the fort walls in the guard house and a rowhouse.

The trip was especially meaningful for Mr. Buniewicz, who used to help lead overnight school trips when he worked as an interpreter for Mackinac State Historic Parks. The historic interpreters are well-informed, he said, and able to keep the children on task throughout the experience.

“I have seen it from both sides, interpreter perspective and the teacher perspective,” he said. “It is the favorite kind of learning experience I’ve taken my kids on.”

The most memorable aspects for the students was playing baggataway and making bread, Mr. Buniewicz said. The bread session was led by interpreter Emily Havlena, who described the process of yeast dough rising as “yeast farts,” which the students still talked and laughed about the week after the trip.


Armed with protective glasses and a stick, Owen Morse prepares for a game of baggataway. Armed with protective glasses and a stick, Owen Morse prepares for a game of baggataway. The trip is structured well, he continued, and hits every standard he covers in class, so he doesn’t need to provide any additional work to make sure the students are learning.

“I hate having worksheets on field trips,” Mr. Buniewicz said. “They should be experiencing and enjoying themselves.”

The trip was funded by a grant from the Mackinac Island Community Foundation’s Wendy Young Fund.



Poppy Stamy bites into a sorrel leaf as James Hartley watches a demonstration in the background. (Photographs by Liz Burt) Poppy Stamy bites into a sorrel leaf as James Hartley watches a demonstration in the background. (Photographs by Liz Burt)

Mackinac Island students (from left) Ottilia Styburski, Adreana Polzin, Makayla Rickley, Kaylee Cowell, Mason McLean, and Alique Henlin learn what it was like to be a British soldier from historic interpreter Daniel Bliese at Colonial Michilimackinac. Mackinac Island students (from left) Ottilia Styburski, Adreana Polzin, Makayla Rickley, Kaylee Cowell, Mason McLean, and Alique Henlin learn what it was like to be a British soldier from historic interpreter Daniel Bliese at Colonial Michilimackinac.

At right: As French Canadian Voyageurs, Owen Morse and Poppy Stamy prepare for a portage on a journey from the Straits of Mackinac to Montreal. At right: As French Canadian Voyageurs, Owen Morse and Poppy Stamy prepare for a portage on a journey from the Straits of Mackinac to Montreal.

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