The Greylock pupils had to put together a puzzle to escape.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The children worked their way around the tented room figuring out how to open combination locks, find secret messages, and discover hidden puzzle pieces.
At the same time, they were learning to work together, solve problems, think creatively and logically, all while learning about the history of North Adams' largest mill — just as the high school students who put the whole escape room project together did as well.
The escape room set up at Greylock School on Thursday was the final project of the year for the E3 Academy, the North Adams Public Schools' alternative educational program. The academy students come up with community service tasks that build and expand on the skills they are learning.
E3 student Matt Bess said it took far longer than planned to paint all the cloth banners showing the Arnold Print Works mill and the spinning machines and the Sprague logos and designs. But he thinks the third- and fourth-graders using the clues based on those industries will pick up on their importance and begin to connect possibly things they've seen in their grandparents house.
"Honestly, I think it's because the kids get to learn about North Adams," he said. "I've been in North Adams schools since I was in kindergarten, I didn't know anything about those mills or Sprague. We learned basic stuff. But right here, we're going to learn when Sprague closed, how much Arnold Print Works made a week in all that cotton and cloth."
The students who participated are Dakota Freeman, Jason Bunt, Matt Bess, Tiara Myers, Anthony Montoya, Rayvin West, LaShay Darkins, Anthony Woodward, David Cassidy, Aliviah Tucker, Tyler Caron and Josh Serrano.
E3 Academy students have a strong track record in developing inventive and interesting projects that focus on the community — from graphics promoting the city on apparel to water bottles to "tiny pantries" to cook books to an oral history of North Adams.
"They were like, 'there's so much we never even knew about it, never learned when we were kids, we should be making a goal that's entertaining, and teach you the history of North Adams,' " said school counselor Abby Reifsnyder, who works with the academy.
Each project is student-driven and it took awhile for the students to figure out how to use history with the decided goal of how to bring people downtown. First they were thinking big — amusement park big — but then circled around to an escape room. But then they had to figure out what an escape room was.
The students were invited to Greylock Bowl & Golf to experience its escape room, the only one in North Berkshire. Reifsnyder said she also investigated a few outside the area when she was out of town.
The students also did research and surveys and found people were interested in the mills, so that was the start of their story. They had to figure out how the puzzles would work and how they would work if not in sequence. Along the way, they also created a number of standalone activities and puzzles like word searches, pictures for coloring, ad lib stories and others.
The escape room was given a dry run by the North Berkshire Academy, which is located in the Armory with E3. The puzzles and red herrings were refined and then debuted at Greylock School with some very eager younger pupils.
The participants are told that its 1990 and former Sprague employees are told remove their things because the plant is closing. They see a movie about an abandoned factory in the year 2020; it ends with eight images (which will be on a puzzle) and the letters S.A.M. They have to piece together the images to save the city.
"All during this whole process they were with the STEM teacher [Shelley O'Dowd] doing the whole unit about engineering by design," Reifsnyder said. "So they were replicating that whole process and other small projects in the classroom work with this building project."
They were also learning how to collaborate with each other and deal with the frustrations that come with a complex project this big that no one involved had ever done before. It took them two marking periods to bring it all together.
"On another wavelength, we are doing business planning, so every student has their own business plan that they will be presenting next week at Lever," added humanities teacher Karen Bedard.
She said the project went through layers and layers of discussion and thought. The first thought was to do it in a free or rented space downtown, then the conversation turned to if that was affordable and how to make it affordable. The tent, funded by Greylock Federal Credit Union, became the solution.
"I like how it brings the community together for North Adams. Somehow we all participated as a team, as a school, and more so as a family to get this project done. And we did it together," said E3 student LaShay Darkins. "It was a lot a lot of stress and hard work. "But the most fun part about it was that we all had fresh ideas, which helped us get the escape room to where it is now and it was even more fun to present it to the kids so they can do it. ...
"It became just a masterpiece and so creative and actually really fun to create."
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