SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- "Alouette, gentille alouette!" Fourth graders from Capitol Hill Elementary row in unison in their mock canoe to the traditional French song. They are depicting voyageurs of the fur trade era -- just one group out of many that helped shaped the history of Minnesota.

They are "rowing" in an atrium filled with other fourth grade actors, including "James J. Hill," Dakota, Anishinabe, lumberjacks and 19th century Europeans who make up this "Great Minnesota Rendezvous."

"We decided to do the Great Minnesota Rendezvous to engage kids in Minnesota History," said fourth grade teacher Tom DeGree. His challenge is to find new ways to fire up students at the school, which is geared toward gifted and talented students.

For this project, each student chooses one of five areas of interest, then they become the expert in that subject, and teach it to the other kids.

Research begins with local destinations like the North West Company Fur Post in Pine City, and the James J. Hill House. When possible, the school brings in primary sources, including Native American civil rights leader Clyde Bellecourt. "So when we're talking about Native Americans, kids don't get the picture that Native Americans were sometime of the past," said DeGree.

At the Rendezvou itself, a visitor might find themselves in the middle of a party thrown by James J. Hill, or a busy Anishinabe encampment. "In fall, we would do wild ricing, winter we would be inside the wigwam, " explained fourth-grader Vivian Bui.

For students, it's a chance to combine learning, doing and fun.

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