By Lee Roberts, Sixth-Grade Language Arts Teacher
March 9 – Last week, 80 young soldiers donned armor, carried shields, shot arrows, and galloped steeds in a battle for the British Isles. Like the original battle, William, the Duke of Normandy, led his army—in this case, the entire sixth and seventh grades—to victory over King Harold II, the last Anglo Saxon King of England, and his eighth-grade defenders. However, unlike the 1066 combatants who crafted their crests, armor and weapons from chain mail and beaten metal, these local soldiers wrought their armaments from cardboard cadged from Ojai Valley shops and donated by local families. While the field of soldiers kneeled, the entire Lower school looked on while Head of School Gary Gartrell, standing in for the Archbishop of York, crowned seventh grader Violet Ruby as King William the Conqueror of England.
For the eighth consecutive year, OVS history teacher John Rowan orchestrated what has become a fond tradition among participants and alumni. Math teacher Doug Colborn said his children, Nolan and Avery, who are now enrolled at the Upper Campus, participated as middle school students. Colborn described the importance of lasting memories like these. His children, and all who join in the fray, “will never, ever forget the Battle of Hastings.” Gartrell said the Battle of Hastings has become part of the fabric of OVS. “It connects generations of OVS students,” he said, adding that the elementary students watch every move of the cardboard wearing soldiers in anticipation of their own battles. “They can’t wait.”
One of the reasons this school-wide event works so well, according to Gartrell, is the level of the middle school-aged children’s willingness to participate in an imaginary event en masse. “At this age, they buy into it 100 percent,” he said. Amateur historian Tigran Nahabedian, a sixth-grade Norman archer, said, “It’s a fast-paced historical lesson for the whole school.” Even the smallest children have a vested interest.
At dinner following the battle, John Rowan’s daughter Clementine, in second grade, mused on the fact that William and the Normans had won again, saying, “I thought the Saxons would win, since the Normans won the last few times, Dad.”
The cardboard-rich reenactment began as a way to make an abstract historical event real to children nearly a thousand years after the fact. Using the Bayeux Tapestry as a guide, Rowan’s students follow the strategy. The archers’ volley—in the OVS version, paper folded into wings, launched from oversized rubber bands—starts the battle. The Saxon’s resist, their lines break; the sixth-grade Norman cavalry encircle the disconnected foot soldiers, galloping pretend warhorses in formation; and the Norman Knights finish the fight victorious. Ojai Valley School’s entire middle school plays a part, according to Rowan, even acting out a metaphor for the students’ progression on to high school. The soon-to-be graduated eighth-grade thanes fruitlessly defend the Eighth Grade Lawn against the seventh-grade Norman knights, and the sixth-grade cavalry and archers fulfill the Norman’s strategy.
Next winter, as the pile of Christmas cardboard at the ends of Ojai driveways disappears, residents might know where it will find a second life, before eventual, inevitable recycling.
To view photos from the event, visit the website Images of OVS gallery.