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Northside fifth graders bring history to life

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By Kate Darnell

Fifty Northside Elementary fifth-graders brought history to life Friday afternoon.

“In the year 1842, I married a temperamental lady named Mary Todd,” a student portraying Abraham Lincoln told an audience seated in the school’s cafeteria.

Part of Tonya Northcutt’s social studies curriculum, Northside fifth-graders were asked to pick a Civil War character they would become.

“It makes the content fun,” said Northcutt, who has been teaching at Northside for two years. “I just try to keep things interesting for them.”

Northcutt’s current fifth-graders became interested when they saw the “Living History” project last year.

“There’s already fourth-graders asking if they’re going to get to do this next year,” Northcutt said.

And it’s not just the students who were excited, Northcutt said.

“To walk into the cafeteria and see that it was almost full... I was like ‘wow!’” she said.

Parents, teachers and other students watched as Civil War characters like Harriet Tubman, Ulysses S. Grant, Sojourner Truth and Clara Barton read a one minute speech that explained their contribution to history.

“I went to Indiana because I did not believe in slavery...,” a student dressed as Sojourner Truth told the audience.

The “Living History” project began when fifth-graders were asked to write an article about the character they had chosen.

Those articles, in turn, became speeches.

“We talked about how to give a speech,” said Northcutt, adding that some students admitted being a bit nervous.

“This was just good practice for them,” Northcutt said. “...to be able to get in front of  a large group of people and speak...”

And while the fifth-graders had been polishing their speeches for a week, Northcutt said she kept one surprise from them.

Making a guest appearance at Friday’s “Living History” was a new part of history - President Barack Obama, portrayed by Jeffrey Jackson.

“They had no clue the president was coming,” said Northcutt. “That was my little cliff-hanger.”

And the “Living History” project, Northcutt said, won’t become a thing of the past. She plans to make the project a Northside tradition.