Pupils bring heroes to life in school show


May 24, 1999|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT'S ONE THING to read powerful passages from Anne Frank's diaries, but quite another to watch a pupil assume the role of Anne Frank and talk about the young girl's hopes and fears.

After a month of research and careful planning, East Middle School pupil Ashley Groft portrayed Anne Frank during the school's Biographical Sketch Presentation Night last week.

Ashley wore a dark wool skirt -- "like the immigrants wore," she said -- as she spoke about what it was like to hide in fear. Later, she put on a choir robe and took on the role of Anne's angel, who discussed why her writings were so important and why they became so famous.

Ashley's presentation was one of 30 living biographies presented. Teachers, pupils and parents have discovered that this type of off-the-pages-into-your-life learning works.

When children read about famous people such as Marie Curie, Winston Churchill and Stonewall Jackson, they might remember a few tidbits of information, but when they research and then assume the role of a famous person, their understanding and appreciation is far greater.

"What I enjoyed the most about the evening is seeing how much the students admired the people they presented," said Jeannie Carbo, whose daughter Jamie portrayed Nick Carter of the singing group Backstreet Boys.

"Justine Wilson videotaped herself as Ian Millar ["Riding High" author and a famous show jumper from Canada], and at the end of the video she changed perspective. She was Justine Wilson, reading a book about Millar. The video was so creative," Carbo said.

During the night of biographical sketches, Katie Beasley became Sigmund Freud, complete with white beard and white eyebrows. Jami Smith surrounded herself with the appropriate books and assumed the role of children's author Judy Blume. Natasha Morrison became Oprah Winfrey; Daniel Alexander Harry Houdini; Cybil Birmingham Walt Disney; and Brandon Kennedy Mickey Mantle.

"The kids worked really hard to pull this off," said Jami Smith's mother, Wendy Smith. "The best thing about the evening was they all learned about people that were interesting to them. Their presentations were informative and quite interesting."

"Through these presentations, students realize that famous people are often quite ordinary -- that they too have family lives and their fame did not come out of a vacuum. They are real people who provide inspiration," said John Zeminski, an extended enrichment teacher at East Middle School who organized the projects with Christina Frizzell, a reading teacher and Carroll's Teacher of the Year.

"The kids are given the opportunity to explore a different genre of literature -- much more than adventure fiction," said Frizzell. "This project opens a new door for them."

"This assignment also helps with the students' research skills and public speaking skills. It was an all-around success and we hope to continue it," Zeminski added.

Other students who gave presentations were Kim Leidy (Dr. Benjamin Carson), Victoria Maier (Marie Curie), Edward Kiesling (Bill Gates), Amanda Martz (Rachel Carson), Emily Bollinger (Dale Evans), Eric Yount (Mohandas K. Gandhi), Amanda Green (Helen Keller), Cliff Mangle (Tiger Woods), Megan Ritter (Stonewall Jackson), Laurel Mick (C. S. Lewis), Jeremy Baez (Will Smith), Donnie Bell (Robert E. Lee), Rebecca Krumrine (Harriet Tubman), Chris Cannizzaro (Michael Jordan), Sarah Thompson (Isadora Duncan), James Mielke (Joe DiMaggio), Valerie Warner (Winston Churchill), Alexa Ashwell (Mia Hamm), Patrick LeDuc (Robert Goddard), and Ben Huber (Pele).

A Martha Stewart moment

It was one of those rare, dreamy mornings when I had time to sip my coffee instead of gulping it on the run. I could listen to little stories as well as lead stories on the news and, heaven help me, I could catch "Good Morning America" and Martha Stewart's segment about plants that thrive in the shade.

I dutifully took notes as Martha walked us through her lush garden in the woods and encouraged us to try a variety of hostas and ferns as well as Solomon's seal and lungwort.

And then, on national television, in front of millions of viewers enjoying dreamy mornings, Martha Stewart named two businesses that offered some of the best shade-loving plants around. The first: Carroll Gardens in Westminster, and she held up a catalog from the business.

The second? I didn't care -- it was somewhere else in the United States.

Business at Carroll Gardens was booming that morning. The parking lot, tucked behind the High's store on Main Street, was packed; the phones were ringing, and the owner, Alan Summers, was in Baltimore helping a client.

"I kept trying to call in, but the line was busy forever," Summers said. "I though it had to be my cell phone, so I tried the car phone and I still couldn't get through."

When he finally got in and heard the good news, his first reaction was to ask if there were enough catalogs to distribute to customers. Yes, there were.

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