BALTIMORE — Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin touted the benefits of a new interactive tool for kids to fifth-grade students at Charlesmont Elementary School Friday as they celebrated the 198th anniversary of the Battle of North Point.
Charlesmont is very close to the battleground and was the launching point for a War of 1812 virtual resource center.
The online center is run by Thinkport and includes various interactive lessons and games like "Hold the Fort," a game about the attack on Baltimore's Fort McHenry. It is a strategy game in which the students have to make decisions about rations, training and ways to defend the fort from the British. If a student loses, a British flag will be hoisted above the fort.
"We're celebrating the use of technology so young people will better understand the War of 1812. … We're celebrating technology so that we can relay to people your age the importance of what happened 198 years ago in our community and 200 years ago in our country," Cardin told the students gathered in front of the school.
Cardin pointed out the economic benefits the program can bring to Maryland. He said other students from around the country can view this resource and they may want to visit North Point and Fort McHenry.
"When they tell their parents, 'Lets take a trip,' and they go on a trip, they spend money. And when they spend money, they create jobs and it helps our community out," he said.
Joining Cardin was Delegate John Olszewski Jr., D-Baltimore County, and members of the National Park Service, Maryland Public Television, the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission and the Fort McHenry Guard.
"The work and idea for this resource came about three years ago," said Vince Vaise, chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry who has been part of the project since its inception. "I help plan the annual commemoration at the fort and getting the re-enactors ready. I thought a game would be good to get young people involved."
Vaise warned that the games are not easy. Players will have to make decisions and develop strategies.
The fifth-grade students discovered this quickly when they were led into the school's computer lab and allowed to play "Hold the Fort."
Bryce, 10, sat with Cardin as he began rallying soldiers and answering the threat posed by the British. The school did not allow last names of students to be published. The boy said he found the game very challenging, but enjoyed the company of the senator.
"It was very honoring," he said. "I never really sat next to someone so important."
Bryce's teacher, Kelly Martin, said she found the database extremely engaging for her students.
"We say the 'Pledge of Allegiance' and look at the flag each morning," she said. "Now students can go online and easily see and experience the origins of these things."
After the ceremony, Cardin reiterated that the program would be a hit for students across the nation, not just Maryland residents.
"It is all part of a national appetite to learn about our country," he said, "to learn about our history."