Armed with a new understanding of the history of the neighborhood around their school, Bedford Hills elementary students held up small plastic squares called viewfinders to "frame" their view of the historic train station at Depot Plaza in Bedford Hills.
Insructed to sketch any component they found interesting—except the cars in the parking lot—they put markers to paper and turned out line drawings reflecting their point of view of the station, and the historical occasion about to take place in their town.
Ellen Cohen, a BHES parent who has been a part of planning the centennial celebration for several months, knew she wanted to involve the youngest members of the community in the festivities.
"These kids are the future of this town, and we wanted to help them understand its past," she said. And practicing their developing art skills during an active outdoor history lesson was a bonus, she added.
The event began at the elementary school with town historians John Stockbridge and Richard Schmitt showing students photos from 20th century Bedford Hills, borrowed from the historical museum. They accompanied the jaunt down Babbitt Road, revealing facts about the town and its buildings along the way.
Children learned that Babbitt used to be called Reformatory Road. The stopped in front of St. Matthias Church, the original site of their elementary school, and learned that an underground tunnel once surfaced on School Street, which borders the church.
"Young children used to walk underground from the other side of the train tracks to get to their school," Stockbridge told the awed group of kids.
Garnering quizzical looks from passers-by, they continued to the station, where teaching artist Flora Rosefsky and BHES art teacher Leslie Carone, provided general instructions to the students, split into three small groups. While some were hesitant with the bold tools given—permanent markers, not pencils with erasers—Carone encouraged them to give in to their artistic instincts.
"Since you can't erase, you have to be brave," she said. "Just draw—and make your mistakes work for you."
Third grader Leigh Cohen wasted no time in creating her art, and she noticed that although they were all drawing the same subject, her viewpoint was very different from her fellow students. "I liked learning about the station, and that everyone's drawing was not the same," she said.
Elin Sullivan, chairperson of the centennial committee, stopped by to admire their work.
"It's great to give the kids a sense of the history of their town," she said. "Also, by doing their drawings now, they're helping to preserve what Bedford Hills looks like for kids 50 years from now."
Each student turned out a few line drawings of the station. Their depot sketches will be on display for the opening reception tomorrow night at the historical museum, and in the station's old ticket office during the centennial weekend.