A second-grade class at Hodges Elementary School has been introduced to historical figures in a collaborative project with Greenwood-based Wild Hare Productions.
Reading, writing, social studies and more have been part of cross-curricular education standards incorporated into the project between the nonprofit dance and theater company and the class. The class is led by Hodges Elementary teacher Tracie L. Rush.
Helping make the project possible is a $1,500 grant awarded by Greenwood County Community Foundation.
Wild Hare Productions actors portraying historical figures pre-recorded filmed monologues of themselves in character, to introduce themselves to Rush’s students.
For six weeks, through live Zoom sessions, historical figures actors and students met virtually. Students then asked figures questions. Students shared art and poetry they have completed during the project.
On March 26, actors took part in a “big reveal” where they shared their real identities with students as members of Lakelands communities rather than the famous folks they portrayed: Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, Clara Barton and Abraham Lincoln.
Wild Hare founder/artistic director Bess Park said the big reveal shows how people can transform themselves through the arts and it teaches young people they can aspire to be “whatever they want when they grow up.”
On the day of the reveal, Park told students, “You are so smart and so creative.”
Actor Lisa Smith, who portrayed Clara Barton, alongside her real-life husband, Jeff Smith, who played Lincoln, told students she taught school for 33 years and first got into theater age 6, later meeting Jeff, who started performing in plays during high school.
“We encourage you guys to be as creative as you can be,” Lisa Smith said. “... Maybe you want to sing or draw or dance, ... you all have that little creative seed.”
Rush said students have flourished in this immersive learning model.
“We are all about making connections,” Rush explains. “With each historical figure, students have researched, analyzed and written.”
Louise Robinson of Greenwood portrayed abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
To get ready for the role, Robinson said she did online research and watched a number of films and clips, including “A Woman Called Moses,” starring Cicely Tyson.
“When I think back to the time of slavery, I’m able to see from where we have come,” Robinson said. “The strength it took to persevere, as well as how some actions are paralleling what is going on in the world today.”
Fellow Wild Hare partner Keith Jameson of Greenwood wrote monologues for a number of historical figures, including Tubman, used in fall 2020 street monologues that were part of the early inspiration for the classroom project.
Students have also learned different poetry forms, created art and tackled additional projects, such as learning about navigation by constellations and the making of machines by Edison.
“There have even been musical connections,” Rush said. “For example, it is said Lincoln loved opera. These kids were riveted listening to it.”
Student Dellis Yeldell, 8, learned that it reportedly took Edison 1,000 tries to “make the light bulb better” and more than 1,000 patents are in Edison’s name.
Classmate Michael Garrison, 8, said it took Edison just one try to invent the phonograph, however.
Student Mackenzie Bowman said she was impressed by Clara Barton, who helped distribute supplies to the Union Army during the Civil War and later founded disaster relief organization, the American Red Cross.
“Clara Barton went out there without getting shot,” said Bowman, 8. “And, she helped so many people at one time.”
Student Amaya Chamberlain, 7, said she has enjoyed writing as part of this project and creating “Angel of the Battlefield” paintings and silhouettes, inspired by Barton. She’s even been reading about Barton and Tubman at home.
In recent weeks, students have researched more figures and started their own monologues on famous people, including Laura Ingalls Wilder and Phillis Wheatley.
There are plans for a virtual museum presentation of student artwork, poetry and writings and discussions about doing the project again and expanding it.