Did you know Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon and liked to walk around with it curled around his neck? Or that James Monroe was the first president to appear in public without a wig?
These and other historical tidbits came to light Jan. 23 when students at North Star Elementary School in Nikiski hosted the second North Star Inaugural Ball.
Kindergartners and first-graders from three classes stepped up to the microphone in front of a crowded room to recite biographical information about the presidents and first ladies of the United States.
"We liked giving them an opportunity to dress up and strut their stuff," said teacher Char-maine Lundy.
Teacher Diane McBee, dressed up in red, white and blue as a helpful "Aunt Samantha," sat at a desk center stage in the multipurpose room and offered gentle prompting.
Video cameras were in great abundance as friends and family, who packed the North Star gym, paid rapt attention to the presidential procession before them.
Photo by Jay Barrett
Fifty-seven students participated, holding placards with pictures of presidents and reading from biographical scripts.
McBee said the project started after the 1996 election. The school previously had done all-school drama productions, but the long shows and hours of rehearsal were too much for the youngest students. So the teachers came up with the inaugural ball idea, which children could work on in class.
"We just decided it was more appropriate," McBee said. "This way we could showcase the kids and what they were actually learning."
The public ball culminated a unit on elections that followed the national process throughout the school year.
Lundy explained how, in the fall, the children filled out voter registration cards and cast votes in a mock presidential election Nov. 7 at a polling place staffed by fourth-grade precinct workers.
Kacie O'Sullivan peeks over the image of Dwight David Eisenhower before reciting her speech about his life and that of is wife, Mamie Doud Eisenhower.
Photo by Jay Barrett
"It was as realistic an experience as we could make it for them," she said.
The third teacher involved was Robin Thye.
The historical significance of the conflicted 2000 election results was over the heads of the youngsters, but they became quite interested in the intriguing quirks of chief executives and delved into the lives of the people assigned to them, she said.
For example, students were amused to learn that President Benjamin Harrison, after being the first to have electric lights installed in the White House, was so worried about shocks from the newfangled technology that he never turned them off.
One of the most inspired students was kindergartner Lincoln Johnson, Thye said.
Johnson was assigned to represent Teddy Roosevelt. Inspired by his own presidential names and Roosevelt's colorful personality, he and his parents researched TR further and found a splendid moustache and round glasses for him to wear to the ball, Thye said.
The classes spent about 10 days preparing for the gala. They selected and sent out formal invitations to area educational dignitaries and, with the help of parents, prepared refreshments for the dessert tables.
The event was well attended, with such a crowd that students had to bring in extra chairs.
The presentation of the 42 presidents and their first ladies went smoothly, with the children even mastering phrases such as "Emancipation Proclamation."
The children, performing as an impromptu ensemble named "The Dimples and Chads," then sang for the crowd of appreciative family members, teachers and friends. The songs included one listing the presidents' names to the tune of "Yankee Doodle." It ended with the rousing conclusion: "I could be president, too, someday."
The finale of the evening was an old-fashioned, hoe-down dance and sampling of goodies.
The three teachers said they plan to do another inaugural ball in 2005.
"We had a great time with it," Thye said.
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