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Students disturbed after Underground Railroad reenactment in Lake Geneva

HOLLAND, Ill. (CBS 58/AP) — Parents of some sixth-graders in suburban Chicago say they're outraged after a school field trip to Lake Geneva included a re-enactment of the Underground Railroad.

Every year, 6th graders at McKinley Elementary School study the Underground Railroad. In March, as in previous years, the students attended a four-day camping trip. One activity involved students acting as runaway slaves while teachers and staff portrayed Underground Railroad guides, sheriffs, and bounty hunters.

Dawn Peterson of South Holland, Illinois says her daughter found the simulation scary. She says race played a troubling role in the dynamic because the majority of students were African-American, while almost all of the teachers were white.

Parent Davenia Clark says her daughter came home with a better understanding of history.

The school tells CBS Chicago they did get positive feedback from some students but will continue conversations as to whether they will continue that activity in the future. 

Executive Director of Nature’s Classroom Institute Geoffrey Bishop said in a statement: 

Re-enactments can provide a sensory experience for students.  School officials select from a variety of different simulations covering various life experiences and historical eras. Institute staff then work with teachers to customize the lesson, according to what the teachers and students are studying. Our programs are highly researched and evaluated by many teachers, school heads. While most history lessons revolve around powerful figures, these simulations show students that history is about how everyday people, including children, lived during extraordinary times. The whole goal of the simulation is to connect to children on a more personal level. When the students come away from the experience, they come away with a deeper understanding of what history is about.

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