Historic figures come to life for third-graders
Evil Knievel gets some tender help from his father as he slips into his daredevil suit. Vincent Van Gogh makes some final adjustments to his ear bandage. Abraham Lincoln, his face scrunched in concentration, prepares his Gettysburg address. “Four score and 78 years ago,” he recites.History, or at least a 10-year-old’s rendition of it, came to life yesterday at Aspen Country Day School as the third grade assembled for its annual “night of the living dead.”The event was the culmination of a research project in Summer Pennetta’s third-grade class at the private school on Castle Creek Road, in which students selected a historical figure to imitate. Yesterday the students dressed up as their chosen figure and took questions from students and parents about their imitation lives.It was quite a gathering.Marie Curie, played by Riley Kinney, was there. Draped in an oversized white coat, tugging at the inside of her sleeves, she “uhmed” and “ahed” her way through an extensive history of the scientist’s life. “I won two Nobel Prizes and I discovered radium and polonium and, uhm, radium is bad for you in big doses but good for you if you have cancer and I was the first woman to be buried in the Pantheon in Paris and it was a big honor for me,” Kinney said.Helen Keller, or Olivia Ayers, was particularly chatty yesterday for a person who can’t hear or speak, although she did offer her name in sign language. Shannon Turbidy, alias Shirley Temple, entertained with a rendition of “Animal Crackers in my Soup.” And J.R.R. Tolkien explained how he was a professor of “languistics” at Oxford University.Each character drew its own crowd of groupies. Fifth-grade boys clamored around Evil Knievel, enraptured with tales of dirt biking and hard living. Girls of the same age circled Shirley Temple, asking questions such as, “How did you get those curls to stay like that?” Parents gravitated to Da Vinci’s booth, curious to hear the list of his inventions (it’s a long list).Revisionist history this was not. Buffalo Bill didn’t have much to say about his role in driving native Americans and bison to near extinction. Nor did Lincoln reflect much about the carnage of the Civil War, or how the union he preserved was forged in a steady fire of bullets. Vincent Van Gogh was fairly triumphant about works that were unappreciated by the public just weeks before his suicide.But for a group of third-graders, the knowledge displayed was impressive. All the students gave the date and place of their births and deaths. They listed the best-known accomplishments of their characters as well as several of their more obscure historical contributions – did you know that Helen Keller’s first sentence was “I’m not dumb now”? Or that Shirley Temple was locked in a black box by her abusive father if she failed to memorize her lines?Pennetta, who first organized the project five years ago, said the goal was to promote the excitement of research and discovery. Third-graders, who often play make-believe anyway, learn better when their imagination is engaged.Ask Carolyn DeVan how she knows so much about Anne Oakley, for example, and she’s likely to be somewhat annoyed: “Because I am Anne Oakley. Duh!” Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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