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Students meet historic athlete

Portrayals of important figures bring them alive for kids

Posted: April 14, 2009 12:59 a.m.
Updated: April 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Portraying Babe Didrikson, Louise Willard, Careers Advisor at Saugus High School, dressed up in golf attire and spoke of Didrikson to a sixth-grade class at Rosedell Elementary School on Monday afternoon as part of the Women in History event.

When 1932 Olympic medalist Babe Didrikson Zaharias "visited" Rosedell Elementary School in Saugus last month, she left behind a cadre of students wowed by her performance, her history, and this person-to-person method of teaching.

Zaharias, of course, didn't really visit - she died in 1956. Rather, the woman portraying her was part of an ongoing program to better teach students.

In honor of National Women in History Month, members of the Parent Teacher Association in the Santa Clarita Valley will depict historical female figures to elementary school students throughout the valley from March until June of this year.

It's a spin on education that seems to work.

Kevin McGroary's sixth-grade class at Rosedell watched in wonderment as Zaharias told them of the Olympic medals she won in 1932.

"This is a better way to learn," sixth-grader Hanna Hollenbach said. "It is like watching our history book come to life and that helps me remember more."

Louise Willard, member of the Parent Teacher Association and career transition advisor at Saugus High School, portrayed Babe, one of six famous women in history to be highlighted and depicted in the tour through the valley.

"She was really funny," Hollenbach said of Willard's performance as the sports icon, an Olympian who competed in javelin, hurdles and high-jump, and who won a gold medal for her javelin throw. "She asked us questions and interacted with us. I know a lot about this person in history now because of what I learned today."

The tour is sponsored by the American Association University of Women, a nonprofit organization that has worked to advance equality and education to women of all ages since 1881.

Saugus High School partnered with the group to bring the live-action teaching methods to local elementary schools.

"We think it's very important to not only teach the children about these influential figures in history, but (also) to make them feel engaged with what they learn," Saugus High Assistant Principal Diane Hamburger said. "It's a fun way for the material to become more alive, which enhances the student's ability to retain the information."

Hamburger's twin 11-year-old boys are students at Rosedell and were two of the students to enjoy the program in class on Monday.

"It was like we got to learn about the famous person from that person herself," Jon Hamburger said. "It was cool because it was like she was really here."

Jon's twin brother, Jason, also was impressed by the performance. "Her story teaches me about going for your goals," Hamburger said. "She could play all these sports and believed in herself. It taught me that if I believe in myself, I can tackle anything."

Students in McGroary's sixth-grade class were not the only ones at Rosedell who benefited from the event.

From 8 a.m to 1 p.m, assemblies were organized for four grades at a time to present another historical female figure, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

"It was fun to watch because she told jokes and told us interesting stories about her life," fourth-grader Emily Wilson said.

Wilson's sister, Abby, a second-grader, also attended the assembly to watch and learn from the female astronaut.

"I liked watching the lady astronaut," Abby Wilson said. "It was fun to learn about the first woman in space, but it was better because I learned it with my own ears!"

Emily and Abby's mother, Susan Wilson, is the PTA's Vice President of Programs and runs the Women in History events at Rosedell.
"This is such a great way to learn," Wilson said. "Rather than learning from a book, they get to live it."

Wilson, with other members of the association in the valley, choose famous women from history that they feel should be represented in class presentations. After each member nominates the historical figure of their choice, a series of votes determine the six famous females to be highlighted for the year.

Some of the women chosen to be depicted this year range from Tasha Tudor, an illustrator of children's books, to African-American singer and actress Pearl Bailey.

"Cleopatra is even one of them," Willard said.

"I love portraying Babe because she feels close to me," Willard said. "I hope that I can bring that feeling to the classroom and watch as students begin to feel close to her as well."

Women in History also involves students at Saugus High School, where Willard and other career counselors guide and encourage students to look ahead to their future vocations.

"These years are the building blocks," Wilson said. "We hope to continue to introduce these strong role models to show students that they can do anything they want to do if they work hard enough."

Babe Didrikson promoted hard work too, but her words were different.

"Practice and concentration" were Didrikson's words of inspiration to others, a phrase that became the great athlete's motto throughout the rest of her life.


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