In early May, six fourth grade teachers, led by Head Teacher Bea Bartolotta and 4C Head Teacher Amy Hertz, journeyed with their 66 students to New York State’s oldest house of worship, the Old Quaker Meeting House in Flushing. The structure, built in 1694 is the second oldest house of worship in the US. Arranging and executing the trip was an epic mass transit challenge but the rewards were great for these young Friends.
“It was a long day but a wonderful one,” said Bea. “We were given some fascinating history, enjoyed some lunch on-site and then held our first meeting for worship as an entire fourth grade in this very special space.”
Amy agreed. “It was particularly meaningful to have a Meeting for Worship as a whole grade in this building.”
They were surprised to learn that the home of Quaker activist John Bowne also still stands nearby, and plans are underway for a visit next year to include his home as part of the tour. Bowne, who helped build the meeting house, penned a petition to Director-General Peter Stuyvesant known as the Flushing Remonstrance, in which thirty Quaker settlers in “Vlishing,” now known as Flushing, requested an exemption from his ban on Quaker worship. Today the document is considered a precursor to the First Amendment. “Bowne fought against Peter Stuyvesant for the right for all people to be able to practice their religion in the colony,” Bea explained.
“We’ve been learning how Quakers, among others, were persecuted by Peter Stuyvesant,” Amy said, “yet they continued to fight for what they believed and finally won. We discussed how this meeting symbolizes religious freedom.”
While studying New York City’s history every year, fourth graders typically start out learning about Henry Hudson but with a visual twist. “We read what his first mate, Robert Juet, describes of the land in his ship log and the students make watercolors based on his observations,” said Amy. “Students also learn about the different director-generals who ruled the colony and evaluate each based on information they read and images they observe.”
They learn about the area’s original Lenape inhabitants whose land was taken by the Dutch, they learn about slavery, and they learn about African religion which was persecuted right along with Judaism and Quakerism. “They read, analyze, and discuss several primary sources to support these topics,” said Amy. Field trips typically include visits to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan and an educational sailing excursion aboard the historic sloop Clearwater, a replica of the Dutch vessels that traveled the Hudson River in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Students also investigate domestic life in the colonies across all economic and social strata, and then collaborate in building their own model of New Amsterdam circa 1660.