This wasn’t Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865. It was Santa Lucia Middle School, May 25, 2016. And of course the gun wasn’t loaded — it wasn’t even gun. Student Damian Fernandez, portraying Booth, was pointing two fingers at fellow eighth-grader Emanuel Plasencia, aka Abraham Lincoln, during an open house at the middle school gym.
It was all part of an exercise in which students took on the personas of historical figures and presented them to visitors via display boards and brief re-enactments.
Emma Sison donned a gray beard to portray the 19th-century abolitionist, writer and statesman Frederick Douglass.
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“I’m really glad that I did my project on him,” said Sison, who thought about profiling Andrew Jackson but decided at her teacher’s suggestion to focus on Douglass instead. “He was very ambitious, and he was very busy. He didn’t just do one thing, he did a lot of things.”
I stood up to the government and didn’t let them take our tribe.
Rigo Mejia, Santa Lucia Middle School eighth-grader, in character as Sitting Bull
Students stood by display boards they’d created and, in character, told visitors to the gym about “themselves.”
Sitting Bull, also known as Rigo Mejia, told visitors about his father’s death in battle and how he had risen to the leadership of the Lakota tribe in South Dakota at a young age. “I stood up to the government and didn’t let them take our tribe,” he said.
The presentations by some 60 students — the entire eighth-grade class — were the culmination of a lesson that began in November, instructors said. The project was funded by the Cambria Education Foundation, and the costumes were provided on loan from the Coast Union High School Drama Department.
“It stemmed from wanting the kids to read nonfiction,” said school librarian Suzanne Kennedy, who helped spearhead the project.
Students began in November by reading a biography on an important figure in American history, then wrote a report on the person. From there, each student created a three-paneled display board featuring things such as their subject’s influences, quotes and character qualities. Graphic elements were added to illustrate the person’s life, along with a drawing created by the student.
“All of the work is done in the classroom,” Kennedy said. “They do all of the cutting and pasting. They draw their historical figure, so they know from beginning to end how to do a project.”
It makes me so proud to see them experience this. It’s not just done the next day. It’s like something they’d do on a job.
Emily Mills, Santa Lucia Middle School ELD teacher
History/language arts teacher Krissy Rhoades described the process: “The kids choose a familiar person in U.S. history. They read a biography in the fall and then they do a paper. They learn how to do research … then they do the board and make it come alive.”
English language development instructor Emily Mills, a Coast Union graduate now teaching at Santa Lucia, said seeing a project like this through from beginning to end helps students prepare for a career environment.
“My kids are so on it — they’re so in character,” she said. “It makes me so proud to see them experience this. It’s not just done the next day. It’s like something they’d do on a job.”
Also on display at the open house were plein air drawing and paintings created by sixth-graders during a field trip to Hearst Castle.
The late-afternoon event also featured a barbecue with hamburgers and hotdogs.