Show me the Benjamins
By RANDY GONZALES
It was a "shocking" experience.
Approximately 300 fifth-graders descended on the Fort Hays State University campus Monday for the sixth annual Ben Franklin Papers event.
The schoolchildren first gathered at Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center to hear a talk from Fred Krebs, who teaches history at Johnson County Community College. Krebs, dressed as Franklin, later answered questions from the students at Forsyth Library.
At the library, there were eight interactive stations where students could learn more about Franklin and his achievements. Perhaps the most popular station was one titled "Ben's shocking moment."
"We are going to shock you, but I promise you it's safe," Darci Poland, a senior at FHSU from Hoisington, told the children.
Poland and Cimarron senior Alicia Owens had the students find out firsthand about electricity. Franklin supposedly famously flew a kite in an electrical storm to learn more about electricity.
Poland used a hand crank with two wires leading out from it she borrowed from her father. Two students held a wire, and all the students held hands with them.
While the crank was turning, the fifth-graders could feel a tingling sensation in their fingers; that was the electrical current passing through them.
The children reacted with surprise, then giggles.
"Oooooh, go faster," several students implored, wanting the crank to be turned faster.
Later, the children could hold both wires by themselves and receive a bigger electrical charge.
"This is the awesomest," one student said after leaving the station.
"They get really excited about the electrical shock," Owens said.
Some of the other stations included learning about Franklin's letter press, his invention of the odometer and his documents. Two original Franklin letters were on display, as were two pages from his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. The documents were donated by FHSU alumnus Dr. Cecil Currey.
"I personally like the documents that have been donated to Fort Hays," said Lincoln Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Barbara Roberts. "We went over the wording of the documents. The students said it was so hard to understand the way it's written. I said that's the difference between old English and the way we talk today."
The American Democracy Project hosted the event through a collaborative effort with the Center for Civic Leadership and the department of teacher education. Anne Drees, ADP student coordinator and a senior at FHSU from Hays, was making sure everything ran smoothly.
"I've been having a lot of fun so far," she said.
Drees especially liked Franklin's letters on display.
"I think they're pretty amazing," she said. "I was a history major for a while, so this is wonderful. I think it's a great opportunity for the fifth-graders to experience."
Krebs, as Franklin, gave the students a living history lesson about his life, as well as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
"We can have a democratic republic, as long as we remain good citizens," he said. "As long as we participate in government by voting and obeying the laws, as long as we are people who work for the good of society, and consider the liberty of other people as high as liberty of ourselves.
"So, after 200 years, I ask you to think about today how stands our republic. Are we citizens of liberty, or are we grabbers of what we want?"