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1853: 24 Hours in the Fight for Freedom

School: Genesee Community Charter School

City/State: Rochester, NY

Grade(s): 4

Format(s): Fiction: Historical

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Social Studies, Visual Arts

Project Overview

This book was created by 4th grade students at the Genesee Community Charter School in Rochester, New York as part of a Learning expedition on slavery and women’s rights.

At the beginning of their expedition students dug up a fictional time capsule from 1853 that included simulated artifacts from that time period, such as reward flyers for runaway slaves, notices about slave auctions, and pictures of historical figures from the women’s rights movement.

Students did fieldwork at several different sites in the Rochester area, including the Harriet Tubman House, the Susan B. Anthony House, and the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Museum. Students also worked with experts from each of these sites and a variety of teachers and parent volunteers.

As a result of their expedition, students wrote and illustrated this book of historical fiction. In a clever twist on historical fiction, students detail a 24-hour time period (one day) of the year 1853, with accounts given throughout the day. The book provides a series of personalized snapshots of what it was like to be an escaped slave searching for freedom along the Underground Railroad, to provide shelter to escaped slaves, or to attend a women’s rights rally.

Each student produced one narrative within the collection; text is accompanied by artwork – bright watercolors with print overlays - some of which was done by the same student and some done by a different student in the class.

The production quality, which was done in-house on the school’s glue-binding machine, is very high, which gives it a professional feel. This book, and many others like it, are available for purchase on the schools’ website.


Models of Excellence recognizes the challenges of teaching students history that includes sensitive topics such as enslaved people, genocide, and human rights abuses. Student projects that involve topics like this should be planned with care for the emotional safety of students, respect for the people and cultures studied, and should use reliable primary and secondary sources so that content is not built upon assumptions or stereotypes. Written simulations (e.g., fictional diaries or documents) should be closely informed by student research, fieldwork, and adult experts. 

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Highlights a format that helps make history come alive - blending historical fiction with the novelty of writing in a 24-hour time period
  • The combination of strong student writing with carefully done artwork is very engaging
  • Highlights learning about historical time periods through the powerful lens of women’s rights and the fight to abolish slavery
  • Highlights a Learning expedition rich in fieldwork
  • Shows evocative and carefully-done student writing, which accurately captures historic details and emotionally-charged topics
  • A fine model of watercolor art combined with printed images

Relevant Resources

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • I can describe a story's character, setting, or events using specific details from the text.
  • I can write narrative text about real or imagined experiences or events.
  • I can produce writing that is appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  • I can use grammar conventions to send a clear message to a reader or listener.
  • I use formal English when appropriate.
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