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Bedford Hills Fourth Graders Find Themselves Immersed in Boston Tea Party Drama

students work to unlock a BreakoutEDU box

Annrose Fluskey’s fourth-grade students at Bedford Hills Elementary School were sitting at their desks doing classwork when there was a knock on their door. When they opened it, five students dressed as Sons of Liberty patriots entered the room to make an announcement.

“Greetings BHES colony,” a student said. She went on to tell the class that they were about to take a special path to a top-secret meeting. “Be vigilant of British soldiers,” she said. “Don’t interact with them. They can’t know where we’re going.”

The class stood up and followed the Sons of Liberty down the hallway, being extra quiet as they passed clusters of students dressed as British soldiers. As if they weren’t excited enough, they started descending a darkened stairwell they had never used before. Students looked at each other in confusion and wonder, their joy growing as they walked down a hallway lit by flameless candles.

“What? Where are we? I’ve never seen this part of the school before!” a student whispered to a friend.

“I thought there were booby traps!” another said.

Their final location was the school’s Book Room, a place where extra books are stored. The shelves were hidden with colorful coverings and the only things illuminating the room were a few lights and flameless candles set up around clusters of desks. On top of each group of desks was an information packet and a locked BreakoutEDU box. A note on top read:

BHES patriots, locked inside this box is tea from the East India Company that was stolen from the British ship “The Dartmouth” which is currently sitting in Boston Harbor. The British government is desperately looking for this tea — without it, the shipment is worthless.

You must unlock the box in order to gain access to the tea and then destroy it!

Good luck!

Students could barely contain their excitement as they grabbed the information packet and began trying to decode ciphers with their teammates. There was emphatic whispering, cheers of delight and hushed disagreements about the best way to figure out the next clue.

Bob Alspach, the school’s computer aide and the mind behind the BreakoutEDU session, was on hand to nudge students in the right direction in decoding the messages.

“I’ve always wanted to do something that combined technology, the Computer Lab, green screen videos and more with the teachers’ curriculum,” Alspach said. “My wife, who is a principal in Chappaqua, mentioned an activity that her Media Specialist had pulled together on the American Revolution. I hooked up with her, and the rest is history!”

Library Media Specialist Sue Bretti and the fourth-grade teachers were also a huge part of the process (each class got surprised with a secret meeting throughout the day) and they had help from third and fifth grade too — students in those grades played the Sons of Liberty and British soldiers.

“A lot of the school was involved, which makes it even more rewarding!” Alspach said.

The student reaction added to that. They were ecstatic as they got to the end of the puzzle and unlocked the final lock. Inside the box were bags of tea, British money, Sons of Liberty flags and some candy.

“That was hard!” one student declared.

“We should do this every day!” another added.

When they were ready to head back to class, Fluskey gathered them all together.

“My patriots,” she said, “—unless one of you is a spy pretending to be a patriot so that you can go back to the British and tell them our plans!” She eyed the group suspiciously before continuing. “We have to go back in secret. Hide your flags so that there’s no evidence. There could be British soldiers out there!”

As they began filing out of the room, one student turned to her friend and said, “I’m going to tell my red coat friend everything!”

As they retraced their steps back to familiar ground, they made sure to hide their flags from anyone they encountered.

“We didn’t do anything suspicious,” a student told another teacher.

One thing is for sure: it was an experience they will never forget.

students work at decoding a cipherstudents celebrate BreakoutEDU success