CORUNNA — Fourth-grade students from Corunna schools traveled the Shiawassee River like the French voyageurs of old, and made candles to light up the night Wednesday during the district’s annual “encampment” in McCurdy Park.

“An event like this is important because it gets the kids out of the classroom and they get to learn something hands on. They get to go beyond just sitting there and listening or reading about the material and they get to actually experience it,” teacher Kelly Rowe said.

All fourth-graders in the district attend the event, said Rowe, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade fine arts at Corunna Middle School.

Students split up into groups and visited seven stations set up throughout the park to teach them about history.

“It started out as a French voyageur-themed event, but now that the curriculum has changed with the state we still get into that but it includes some pioneer-related things. Hence my clothes,” said Rowe, who was dressed in pioneer clothes.

The event has been taking place for about 25 years and gets support from the PTO and the Corunna Education Foundation.

“When I talked to my fifth-graders and told them I was going to be gone today because of this, they remember it and they have special memories of it,” Rowe said.

The parents who help with the event enjoy it was well, and many come back year after year to help out with the event, she added.

One of the big activities allows students to canoe down the Shiawassee River to get a feel for what trading was like during the French voyageur times.

French voyageurs were fur traders and explorers who traveled rivers and lakes in large canoes during colonial times.

Students took part in a French Voyageur-themed lunch that included stew.

“It just gives them an idea of what it took back then, people had to canoe down the river to trade their animal furs and other things,” Rowe said.

An actor portrayed Father Marquette, a French Jesuit missionary who founded Michigan’s first permanent settlement in Sault Ste. Marie.

The students also got to learn about another more modern industry that had a big impact on the way Michigan’s cities were formed, the auto industry. There was a station at which students learn about the Model T and Henry Ford and the car’s importance to Michigan’s development.

The Model T, which was in production from 1908 to 1927, is widely regarded as the first affordable mass-produced car was aimed at middle-class Americans. The car initially sold for $825.

Stations were spread throughout McCurdy Park to teach students.

At the station Rowe was supervising, students made candles by dipping a long wick into wax, letting it cool and repeating the process. They also made bracelets with beads that represent the four different directions, north, south, east and west.

“It’s great because the kids get to see what they would have had to do before electricity was around and it gives them some perspective,” Rowe said.

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