Unlike the lesson in life taught by Tom Sawyer, these students from Newton High School were getting a lesson in Sussex County history as they slapped white paint on the house on the corner.
On Sunday, 19 students, most of them from the Honors Latin Club, spent the day in Walpack Center scraping off old paint and priming the Robbins Family home as part of their community service project.
Looking much as it did when the hamlet was settled in the early 1800s and definitely with no changes since the federal government took ownership in the 1960s, the area is a good place to learn about early settlers, said Mary A. Christman, Latin teacher and a member of the Walpack Center Historical Society.
Spencer Scholz, president of the club which accepts only those who make the honor roll, said he didn't know the history of how the area came under government ownership.
The area now known as the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was originally destined to become part of what was known as the Tock Island Dam Project. The government bought up much of the area, but public opposition to the project caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to back off.
Instead, the land was deeded over to the Department of the Interior, which created the national park, and keeps the Delaware River the longest undammed river in the eastern U.S.
Except for a schoolhouse and fire station, all the buildings in the hamlet are government owned. The historical society has use of three buildings, including the one which the students were painting.
All this is old hat to Christman, who grew up in the Walpack Center area. "I used to come over here early in the morning, before I went to work, and do some work," she said of the Robbins house, which is destined to become a storehouse for the society.
After a morning of scraping, then a picnic lunch, the students went back to work with paintbrushes in hand, joined by bus driver Pat Clark, although she admitted the scrapping was harder than she thought. "But I had to join the kids, too," she said.
Other than the Latin club, teacher Jack Choma, an adviser to Interact, a community service club at the school, and some members of that club were involved in the project.
Amy Lupfer, 17, and a member of both groups, led the chorus of good-natured complaints, even as they enthusiastically used up the paint. "There's bugs up here," she said from the top of a ladder once. Most of the time, she concerned herself with staying atop the ladder. "Don't let go!" she often chided the student below who was "holding" the ladder.
While it may seem strange to take four years of Latin, Scholz said he believes it will help him in his chosen field, chemistry, since many other languages are based on Latin. "We even translated something into English, using Latin," he said. It wasn't until after the translation was completed that the students were told the original was in Romanian.
Christman said she uses the Latin course to also give students a solid grounding in culture. By studying the ancient Romans and Greeks, it gives modern students an insight into the wide variety of cultures today.
The Latin courses are popular, she said, filling up six sessions a day. In fact, the annual Roman Banquet, held last Friday, has had to set up a separate room for entertainment.
"We had over 300 attend and turned people away. Even the principal couldn't get into the banquet," she said.