In September 1776, a little more than two months after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, three colonial delegates headed to Staten Island on a peace mission.
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge met with the British Adm. Lord Richard Howe. But the meeting was in vain, and war could not be averted.
Fifth graders at Avon Grove Intermediate School joined students from 1,173 schools across the country Dec. 6 in traveling, via the Internet, back to that fateful meeting. Afterward they participated in a live question-and-answer session with Franklin and Howe, as moderated by a modern historian.
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has organized electronic field trips for the last 11 years. The trips offer schools the opportunity to view a 30-minute historical program in a live feed along with classes across the country, and then submit their questions to the stars of the show.
The program runs just under an hour in total and, combined with online resources that students and teachers have access to throughout the school year, the electronic field trips have drawn rave reviews.
"They're wonderful," said Kathy Di Domenico, who teaches social studies, science, and language arts to fifth graders at Avon Grove Intermediate. "It's incredible, the amount of discussion that they create."
This is the second year that Di Domenico's students have participated in electronic field trips. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation will put on seven trips this school year. The trips cost $120 each, or $500 for all seven and access to the online resources throughout the year.
"We are trying to transform social studies education at elementary and middle school levels by using technology to make it interesting and exciting, and to help students understand the past as it would apply to their futures," said Frances Burroughs, director of operations, educational programs for the foundation for 15 years.
Each field trip takes about three years to put together from scratch. The foundation has employees with writing experience who take care of the scripts, and with other Williamsburg employees with broadcast experience, the foundation is able to put together a full production team in-house.
For the stars of their shows they look no further than their own historical interpreters, the actors who fill Colonial Williamsburg's 301-acre Historic Area in Virginia.
"It takes the stories on the written page and reminds the students that these were real people, not unlike themselves. They can relate to the decisions, conflicts, and joys. It invigorates the students so they can get excited about history," said Burroughs.
Di Domenico was just as impressed with the online resources as she was with the program itself. For those students who couldn't get through on the phone lines during the live feed on Dec. 6, questions could be e-mailed during the week of the show. A John Adams interpreter personally answered several questions e-mailed in by students at Avon Grove.
"It was incredible. I got chills," said Di Domenico, recounting her reaction to the genuine answers one of the founding fathers e-mailed back. Adams responded quite passionately when asked why war was the best option.
"We have tried everything short of war and it has availed us nothing. We are now faced with the stark choice of going to war and fighting like men for our God-given rights, or meekly bowing to England and surrendering ourselves and our children in perpetuity as slaves to the British crown."
"Why did we choose war?," Adams asked. "That tyrant across the sea left us no other honorable choice!"
For more information on Colonial Williamsburg and its electronic field trips, visit