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Small groups of homeschoolers, families attend School Day at Battle of Aiken

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A small crowd of homeschoolers and other families learned about blacksmithing, ax-throwing, Victorian jewelry and more at the Battle of Aiken's School Day, where historical re-enactors teach students about the Civil War era.

While the field trip destination typically draws in hundreds of students from the area, local public schools were not in attendance this year. Still, dozens of families arrived at the festival Friday, despite the cold, cloudy weather.

Event coordinator Darlene Stokes with the Order of the Confederate Rose, said about 300 kids had registered as of Thursday.

Homeschool parent Edward Knoll brought his family to the event as a way to learn about history. This was his first time attending the event.

"We like it," Knoll said. "We were hoping for better weather, but we showed our kids the blacksmith, and they thought that was neat."

Jen Verdery, another homeschool parent, said she and her children came to the Battle of Aiken to experience the living history demonstrations.

A resident of Augusta, Georgia, Verdery also said this was her first time at the event.

"So far, my kids are loving it. It's wonderful," Verdery said.

Posted signs state that masks were required, though few attendees followed that rule. Hand sanitizing stations were available in multiple locations.

Dressed in period costumes, re-enactors worked at booths and displays demonstrating some aspect of mid-19th century life.

Jenny Stanley, who does accounting and marketing in her regular life, has been involved in re-enacting for 28 years. Like many women who participate, she sews her own dresses based on historical patterns.

During the School Day, Stanley taught students about Victorian jewelry and other ornaments that contained real hair that were created as a memento for a special someone.

"What is the most precious thing you can give someone? A piece of yourself," Stanley said.

Jennifer Bowers played a "schoolmarm," showing students what it would be like to learn in a small, one-room schoolhouse.

But this year, the idea of going to class with students of different ages in one room wasn't so shocking to the children Bowers talked with.

"Lots of the children I'm seeing today are homeschooled, so they kind of already have the experience," Bowers said.

One of her props is a surprisingly difficult eighth grade exam, which Bowers said baffled adults with math questions about bushels and rods.

Amanda Young and her family camped out for the weekend. She and her daughters, all dressed in period clothing, interacted with attendees near their campsite, handing out free historical pamphlets and brochures.

Young, along with her husband Joey, have been participating for 25 years at re-enactments all over the Southeast. Joey Young serves as the chaplain for the Battle of Aiken event and provides a Sunday church service.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant fewer kids attended Young's booth. Typically, she said groups of 20 or 30 would come by every few minutes in previous years.

"Usually, it's a lot more, but we're thankful for the ones we have," Young said.

Some aspects of the time period, like slavery, were not major topics at the event. Areas like the blacksmith, the jail and the cannon were some of the more popular attractions.

Stokes said the Battle of Aiken event tries to keep things positive.

"I want the kids to have fun. I want them to be able to go and look at something and go, 'I want to know more about that.' So they go home, and they research it …," Stokes said. "That's my goal, is just to start an interest in some of these kids away from the video games, so they can start researching and find history."

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