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Lake Middle School students duck and cover

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Seventh graders at Lake Middle School donned gas masks and hunkered down in “trenches” during a mock World War I battle, complete with simulated artillery fire and animatronic rats.2 / 4
Lake Middle School 7th-graders Aviram Mikkilenni, Hana Bedru, Zach Spude, Sam Tollison and Jon Pogachtnik act out the role of soldiers under attack by mustard gas in World War I. Their social studies teacher, Prudence Lamar, created a simulated trench warfare experience to give the students an idea of the fear and suffering endured by the troops in the Battle of Verdun, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)3 / 4
Seventh graders at Lake Middle School donned gas masks and hunkered down in “trenches” during a mock World War I battle, complete with simulated artillery fire and animatronic rats.4 / 4

They marched in formation into a dark room, to the sound of artillery fire and machine guns.

"Take cover!" social studies teacher Prudence Lamar shouted. "You're under heavy fire!"

One group of seventh-graders took cover behind a row of chairs that represented the German trenches.

Another group hunkered down on the Allied side.

Wednesday, one room at Lake Middle School became a war zone as students learned about trench warfare in World War I.

Lamar, a retired Marine, created the immersive lesson to drive home the abject fear and suffering endured by soldiers during the 1916 the Battle of Verdun in France.

She read excerpts from Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front," a graphic account of the horrors of the Great War, while images of a movie based on the novel flashed on a whiteboard.

The students donned cloth respirator masks during a simulated mustard gas attack, as Lamar read the novel's description of soldiers coughing up lung tissue. At another point in the book, the soldiers fought off rats that tried to eat their meager rations. An animatronic rat skittered about the classroom floor.

Another lesson dealt with the moral dilemma of kill or be killed. Throughout the proceedings, Lamar posed study questions for the students to consider:

"The first night out, did you expect to die?"

"Suppose a fellow soldier died next to you. What would you do with the body?"

"There has been constant shelling for three days. How does your head feel?"

Hannah Miley, 13, said the lesson made an impression. "My dad's in the Air Force," she said. "It really made me appreciate what other people do."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

(651) 459-3435
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