Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fifth graders from Alcova Elementary School in Dacula look at artifacts from the Titanic debris field, which included an officer uniform button, a cup, a leather wallet, a ten dollar bill, and a vile of perfume on Friday. The students learned about the Titanic from Theresa Nelson of RMS Titanic Inc. and where given mock boarding passes with names of real passengers who boarded the Titanic in 1912.
DACULA -- Baylee Smith, 10, carried the boarding pass of Miss Henriette Yrois, a Parisian model who married a filmmaker in the early 1900s.
She and fellow fifth-graders filed into the media center Friday morning at Alcova Elementary School, each clasping the index card-sized boarding passes bearing the names of Titanic survivors.
By role playing as passengers of the ill-fated ocean liner, students got a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived to tell the tale. It was a "pretty different" kind of experience, Smith said.
The fifth-grader learned that "more than half of the people who were on the ship died, and they were putting people on the life boats women and children first," Smith said. "That was nice of the men, but I guess it wasn't really fair. I felt bad for them."
Students like Smith huddled on the carpet in the media center listening to historian Theresa Nelson with the RMS Titanic Inc., tell stories about the ship. As visual cues, Nelson brought actual artifacts from the Titanic, including an officer's uniform button, a wallet, a U.S. currency bill and a coffee cup from the third class dining room.
Nelson told the young people that extracting artifacts from the sunken ship is no easy endeavor. "When you see pictures of the Titanic underwater, it looks very solid," she said. "But try to think of it like a wet potato chip, and over the years it's eventually just going to be a big rust spot underwater."
Nelson spouted facts about the lives of the people on each boarding pass. Afterward, she explained that "when working with kids, it resonates better if you can involve them. Otherwise, a history lesson is a history lesson. It doesn't draw them into the story."
Assistant Principal Cyndi Smith thought Nelson did a fine job of drawing her students in to the lesson.
"They're studying the Titanic right now, so this method of learning will make an even bigger impact on them," Smith said. "Just getting to see those artifacts is really something."
Added Smith: "It's also a chance for them to learn the difference between Hollywood and facts, because sometimes that gets blurred."
Nelson addressed the movie "Titanic"'s fictional characters of Jack and Rose when a student quizzed her about whether they were real or not. "But there were many people on that ship who had stories that were just as interesting," Nelson said.
Debbie Daniell, district social studies director, said Friday morning's visit was a good "hands-on opportunity for these kids. It brings the idea home for them."
Some of the artifacts students saw on Friday, as well as a host of others, will be on display beginning April 6 at the Atlantic Station Premier Exhibition Center in Atlanta.
For more information, visit www.titanicatlanta.com.