On Monday and Tuesday, El Morro Elementary School's multipurpose room was packed with tepees, longhouses and craft stations where students were tooling leather, sewing Native American-style pouches and making candles.
The school's annual Colonial Days event — filled with period costumes and harvest-time snacks — is a 22-year tradition where students from kindergarten to fifth grade are immersed in early American history.
Volunteer parents and kids were decked out in feathers, fringed leather and buckled shoes as students made age-appropriate crafts or listened to adults read a Thanksgiving story next to a wigwam.
"I usually dress up as a Native American or a colonist," said Principal Christopher Duddy in a long, blue jacket and ruffled white shirt.
This year the PTA-sponsored event spilled out of its traditional two-day time period and filled the school with Thanksgiving throughout November.
For the past few weeks, fourth- and fifth-graders have become tribes, forming their own economy of beads traded among classes.
"They get to earn beads either for grades, … being on time, being quiet, but they also get to earn Character Counts beads," said Juliana Gambrell, who is passing off the reins of the event after four years.
Character Counts is a year-round program at El Morro in which students are encouraged to embrace pillars of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
Up until now, it hadn't been integrated into Colonial Days.
"This is the first year we've launched it, and it's gone well, and the teachers love it," Gambrell said.
It fit with this year's theme of "Two People, One Land," emphasizing the colonists and Native Americans coming together for Thanksgiving.
"That's why the trading program was important for the fourth- and fifth-graders because then they're talking about the different tribes between their classrooms," Gambrell said. "It's an educational program; it's not just a craft fair, so this year the focus was on how two people came together — some of the struggles they had to overcome."
As a reminder of those weeks spent trading and learning about early America, students made necklaces this week out of the beads they'd traded.
Kelly Boyd, the incoming Colonial Days chairwoman, said it's a tangible lesson that humanizes history for students.
"Rather than just reading a book or listening to a lecture they're actually acting upon some of the ideals. And that's what this is about," she said.