Rose Post, from 1985: Pilgrim Power: Kids bring history to life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In memory of Rose Post, who died Oct. 20, the Salisbury Post is reprinting some of the stories from her 56-year career with the paper. This story originally appeared in the Post on Nov. 24, 1985.
So you get into a quarrel with President Reagan and decide to leave home for a New World the way the Pilgrims did back in 1620.
Just what would you take along?
Your VCR? Your skis? Your bank book?
Not the second-graders at Sacred Heart Catholic School. They know that first you’d better hang in there with food and water and clothing and a few tools in case you need to build a shelter. After that, they’re willing to branch out a little and think about what really matters.
A favorite pillow would have to go, of course. How else would you get to sleep? And “medisen in case I get sick.” And if you’re really leaving home forever, you’d need a picture of your mom and dad and maybe a few friends and a telephone.
Those ribbons you won at the swim meet might be comforting when you’re lonely, and a television and toys to play with are obviously indispensable.
And just to be safe, says Ashley Gregory with the biggest of grins, “I’d take my American Express Card because you can’t leave home without it.”
Even a quick visit with Robin Kersey’s class gets it all back in focus, shoving summit meetings and Star Wars and buy-American campaigns into the background.
The real news, if you ask the children, is that Thanksgiving is coming. It might not get here for the rest of us until we put the turkey in the oven on Thursday. But for the children at Sacred Heart, like the children in classrooms all over the county, it’s been here for days as teachers bow to the excitement of a holiday in the offing and build their lessons around it.
By now, the second-graders at Sacred Heart know all about Plymouth Rock and Indians and King James and the Mayflower and corn and turkey.
If you doubt it, glance at the giant “Feast Facts” inside their classroom door, compiled from contributions from any of the children who felt so inclined. Plenty did.
Counting blessings
“The Pilgrims sailed from England on a ship called the Mayflower,” offers Lizelle. Tiffany adds that they landed at Plymouth Rock.
Chas says the winter was very cold and many people died, Stephen that the Pilgrims met an Indian named Squanto, and Katie says he showed them how to plant corn.
Preston knows it’s a day when you thank God for many things.
The children are ready for that, too. They confide, one by one in loud whispers, that (after the turkey) they’ll be thankful for:
“My parents.”
“The Pilgrims who came to America.”
“My grandmother.”
“A holiday from school.”
Bryant Vickers announces that he’s thankful for “Me!”
Robin, the teacher, is most thankful for the play about Thanksgiving, a full-scale production with costumes and props and an audience of other first- and second-graders and a few parents.
The play runs only about 10 minutes. Maybe less. But it’s a play with a difference. Two of the children wrote it. And the actors and actresses didn’t memorize their lines. They read them. Robin is thankful because that Thanksgiving play was a reading lesson that worked.
Nobody quit on a word or stumbled or even hesitated.
“Umpteen schools do plays,” she says. “That’s not unique, but this is a good experience for them because it has them reading so much better.”
Children, she believes, can read what they write themselves better than what somebody else writes, so she sets those having trouble reading to writing by becoming their personal stenographer.
That’s how the play was written.
“We sat down and talked about the Pilgrims coming over,” she says, “and then I asked, ‘Now what would King James say?’ One said he’d say, ‘All of you are going to my church or you’re going to die!’
“Then I said, ‘And what would they say back?’ The other child said they’d say, ‘We don’t want to go to your church,’ and that’s the way it was written.”
Prompt each other
If one actor even looked as if he might miss a word, another prompted him. The Pilgrims brought the house down when they finally sighted land. It was going so well that they almost forgot the popcorn when they got to the grand finale and invited the audience to join them in a Thanksgiving feast.
“Children do much better reading when they read their own words than when they’re reading out of a reading book,” Robin says. They get interested in the subject matter and gain confidence. “Writing’s the big thing I push in the classroom,” she says. “They’ve written Thanksgiving, acrostics, poems, stories. Their work is published every week.” (Published is getting displayed in the hall.)
Before it can be published, “the children have to write and proofread and give it to me,” Robin says. “I make final corrections, and then they have to rewrite. Sometimes they have to rewrite it three times.
“I use writing,” she says, “in every subject area but one. I feel that that’s where they get all their skills. The only subject matter I haven’t used it with yet is math, and I’m going to figure that out with word problems.”
Parents, she says, “come and say their attitude toward reading has improved so much because they’re so interested and excited.”
She gets so excited as they learn “that I go home and tell my husband about them,” she says. That not only brought Rip to the play but made him a second-grade substitute teacher while she helped the cast strike the set.
That’s really something to be thankful for.