MOUNT DESERT — What better way to learn about history than to go back in time and experience it?
Of course, that’s not possible.
But what might be the next best thing happens around this time every year when the third-grade classes at each of the Mount Desert Island and Trenton elementary schools spend half a day at the Mount Desert Island Historical Society’s one-room Sound Schoolhouse.
Once the students walk in the door, the year is 1894. The teacher, the stern but patient Mrs. Abbott — portrayed by Historical Society volunteer Maudie March — takes them through high points in the history of Mount Desert Island, with a few arithmetic questions thrown in.
At one point, the pompous school superintendent, Dr. Thaddeus Somes — portrayed by Andrew Simon of the Barn Arts Collective — strides in and lectures the students on the importance of proper behavior. A short time later, the music teacher — Barn Arts’ Katherine Perkins — leads the students in singing songs of the day.
Two boisterous fishermen — played by Simon and fellow Barn Arts cast member Brendan O’Keefe — enthrall the children with tales of their exploits at sea. Later, the same two take on the roles of local quarry workers.
Last Friday, the 14 members of Trenton Elementary School’s third-grade class visited the Sound School with their teacher, Snow Ross.
“It’s literally the one trip of the year that they talk about,” said Ross. “All the kids in the lower grades look forward to it, and the older kids still talk about it.
“The Historical Society and the Barn Arts work to complement what we are already learning in the classroom. And they are always open to new ideas; they’re flexible with anything we want to add. They really make it a living history experience.”
March has been playing the 1894 school teacher since the Historical Society began offering the program to area schools nearly two decades ago.
“I was with Acadia Community Theater for a while,” she said. “[The Historical Society] needed a school teacher for this program, and somebody said, ‘Why don’t you ask Maudie March?’ I love doing it.”
March said it has become even more engaging and fun for the students since the Barn Arts group got involved three years ago.
“But it’s more than just a fun day,” said March. “We try to be very accurate about what it might have been like back then.”
She said that one day last year, when Dr. Somes, the school superintendent, burst in and began lecturing the students about discipline, one wide-eyed little boy asked, “Is this real?”
To add to the authenticity of the experience, many of the children in Ross’s class came dressed in vintage clothing.
“We do a lot of prompting with the parents, talking with them about what they might want to get for the kids to wear,” Ross said. “This year, the parents really stepped up to make it happen.”