Skip to main content

South Valley Journal

History and music intersect at Promontory Point for Rosamond students

Jun 05, 2019 03:34PM ● By Jet Burnham

Fourth-grade students tell the tale of the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. (Jet Burnham\City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The story of the transcontinental railroad, completed at Promontory Point in 1869, was told through music by fourth-graders at Rosamond Elementary, who have been studying Utah history all year. 

“It's been wonderful to integrate the arts in social studies and Utah history,” said fourth-grade teacher Holly Keele. “My kids can tell you all about the railroad and the challenges and the triumphs.” 

She said learning and rehearsing the play got them excited about the event and celebrating its 150th anniversary.

“It just really kind of solidified all the learning,” said Keele. “They've done studies that learning is deeper and more embedded if you learn in a variety of ways.”

A total of 96 fourth-graders participated in the performance.

“We have some students who have overcome anxiety, and getting up in front of our group learning how to perform— it's been really, really awesome,” said Keele.

Some students had a speaking part and acted out key events in the story, while others held signs and props or played instruments during the songs.

The fourth-graders performed the show twice, once for the school and again for their parents. Fourth-grader Rowen Burgess was proud of their performance.

“It's a good learning experience, but it's fun to learn at the same time,” she said. “It's really good how everyone works together to make the play really good.”

The program included catchy songs about black powder explosives, the injustices for Chinese immigrants, the devastation of Native American lands, the greed of businessmen, the competition between the two railway companies, and the excitement of the culmination of all the work when the trains finally met at Promontory Point.

In class, Keele said they have talked about the significance of the railroad to Utah and how it changed the world by speeding up communication, creating access to new places and increasing connections between people.

“It's kind of like how the internet changed our lives,” she said. “This railroad changed the lives of the people in 1869.” 

The script and songs were written by Stephanie Skolmoski, who has three grandkids attending Rosamond, one of which is in the fourth grade. She thought the 150th anniversary of the completion of the rail line was a big deal, so she wrote the play to involve the kids in the celebration of the event.

She began writing the play last year. She wanted to be able to include a lot of details that students wouldn’t otherwise learn.

“There was a lot of research involved,” she said. “I didn't want anyone to tell me that I have the wrong information.”

Skolmoski said she is not a fan of trains.

“But I'm a fan of giving the kids music and teaching them creatively,” she said. She taught music classes in Salt Lake District for 20 years. When she retired and her grandkids began attending school, she was quick to volunteer to teach music in their classrooms.

“I just feel like the kids don't get enough of it,” she said.

Her experience is that kids learn and retain information better through music.

Grace Redington’s speaking part in the performance was announcing the dates the two railroad companies started laying their first tracks, something Skolmoski said Grace will probably never forget.

“These kids will always remember a lot of the facts because of this,” she said.

Former students have told her that they got through a test on the Preamble to the Constitution or the state capitals because of the songs she taught them.

Last year, Skolmoski wrote a “Hamilton”-inspired play for the fifth grade to perform because the musical was popular and it fit in with the American history they were learning.

When asked what she has planned for next year’s show she replied, “I'll come up with something.”