For 7th-graders at Chesterfield School , negotiating a trade agreement with French trappers is no sweat.

That’s because the students have been stepping back in time and into the shoes of Native American tribes who once lived in the Monadnock Region.

Recently, the class participated in a simulated tribal council meeting designed to help them learn about the structure of indigenous groups. The students selected a sachem, or chief, and a shaman, or spiritual healer, and worked together to make decisions that would impact their tribe, said Jay VanStechelman, who teaches middle school social studies in Chesterfield. They used a sacred “talking stick” to determine who would have the right to speak.

But before the tribal council could convene, the students had to find a place to hold their meeting.

So the class built a wigwam — a dome-shaped structure made of beams covered by mats that’s roughly 7½ feet tall and 15 feet in diameter — near the outdoor classrooms east of the school’s playground.

Both the meeting and the construction project were part of the class’ Native American unit, in which they learned about different indigenous cultures across the country, delved into creation stories and Native American spirituality, and researched different architectural styles used by Native Americans, according to VanStechelman.

He has been teaching the unit for several years, but this is the first time he’s done the wigwam project with his 7th-graders. Some were tasked with making the maple beams that would form the structure, while others were assigned to collect rocks, clear space on the ground for the wigwam or dig holes for the beams, VanStechelman said.

His hope is that 7th-grade classes can continue with the project in future years, and perhaps even add a fire pit area that could be used for drumming. He’s also interested in cataloging native plants in the outdoor classroom area to help the students learn about plant-based medicine and its use in indigenous cultures.

“Ultimately I still think natives have a lot to teach us about how to live on this planet through the web of life,” he said, “so I have a personal interest in wanting to share some of that information about the connectedness of all life and what it means to maintain a local ecosystem in a sustainable way.”

From VanStechelman’s point of view, hands-on projects like building the wigwam and holding the tribal council meeting are some of the best ways to engage students.

“I think it authenticates the learning. We want to ultimately give kids authentic learning experiences,” VanStechelman said. “And especially doing it with the talking stick and the tribal council, it simulated how a democratic society could ultimately work.”

Plan New Hampshire is now accepting applications for its annual scholarship and fellowship program. Last year, the organization awarded more than $20,000 in funding to eight students who exemplified Plan New Hampshire’s mission to “foster excellence in planning, design and development of New Hampshire’s built environment.”

The scholarship is open to students studying architecture, landscape architecture, studio art, engineering, interior design, a construction-related field or trade, environmental science or similar field, land or community planning, or historic preservation.

Applicants must be undergraduate or graduate students who call New Hampshire home, but may be studying anywhere. Applications are available online at and are due April 12. There is a $10 application fee.

The Fall Mountain Regional High School Quiz Bowl Team has qualified for the NHPTV Granite State Challenge. On Nov. 18, the team completed a 100-question test as a group at Manchester Community College to qualify for the competition and answered 82 questions correctly.

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the Granite State Challenge, Fall Mountain’s team came in fifth place. It’s composed of senior captain George Gowdy, senior James Blair, juniors Morgan Snelling and Brendan Reagan, sophomore Isabel Bushway and freshman Jacob Bradley, and coached by Nick Belsky.

On Feb. 17, the Wildcats will compete against Souhegan High School in their first match of the bracket. It will be televised live on NHPTV at 6 p.m.

What’s going on in your school? Education reporter Meg McIntyre can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or Follow her on Twitter at @MMcIntyreKS.