Learning from Heroes Past and Present
Mikaela Gibbs approached an office in College Hall with nervous excitement; after all, it is not everyday that a third grader from Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) travels across the campus to interview T. Alan Hurwitz, the president of Gallaudet University. The president soon emerged from his office with a warm smile for his young guest and showed her into his office. Mikaela interviewed Dr. Hurwitz about his childhood, his career, and what he liked about being president of the university.
Mikaela asked, “What do you most like about your work?” Hurwitz answered, “I enjoy meeting people, working with groups here to discuss how to improve services for deaf students … I have traveled around the world to make speeches and raise funds… I travel a lot in the US and meet many Gallaudet alumni. I hope one day you will be an alumnus.” At the conclusion of the interview, Dr. Hurwitz gave her a stuffed bison, the mascot of Gallaudet.
The interview was one of many activities that KDES students from third, fourth, and fifth grades participated in throughout the year related to the Heroes Project. The students explored heroes from many different aspects — heroes in the Deaf community, heroes in the sports community, heroes in human rights, and heroes from the Deaf President Now campaign.
Third grader Ari Jno-Baptiste interviewed a modern day baseball hero, Gallaudet baseball coach Curtis Pride, who was the first deaf person to play on a major league baseball team since 1945. Pride showed Ari a photo of himself with President Barack Obama when he was invited to the White House in 2010.
In some instances, students took a mini-field trip. In February, a group of students and their teachers walked across the front street to Hoy Field, named for the famed deaf baseball player William Hoy. Hoy, who is credited for starting the use of hand signals in the game, was known for his ability to throw long distances. The students used equipment to measure how far they could throw compared to the 220 feet that Hoy easily hurled the ball from center field to the home plate.
The Heroes Project Expo: from Past and Present
The spring expo held in March gave the third-, fourth-, and fifth- grade students and their teachers an opportunity to show their Heroes Project work to students from other KDES classes, teachers, staff, their families, and visitors. Mikaela and Ari showed videos from their interviews with Hurwitz and Pride, as did Ariella Zfati, who interviewed former Gallaudet president I. King Jordan via videophone about himself and the Deaf President Now campaign that launched the events that led to him becoming the first deaf president of Gallaudet.
One class created a kind of living wax museum of heroes who made contributions to civil rights. Students researched the lives of people like Harriett Tubman, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Frederick Douglas, Heather Whitestone, and President Obama. On the day of the expo, they dressed in costumes and stood as “wax works” on display. When the other KDES classes came to visit, the students tapped on the wax models, bringing them to life. The models then described their heroic character and responded to questions from students and other adult visitors.
Other students made PowerPoint presentations on heroes such as Andrew Foster, who established schools for the deaf in Africa, deaf actress Michelle Banks, pop star Michael Jackson, deaf boxer James Burke, deaf actor Lou Ferrigno who played the Hulk, and American frontiersman Erastus “Deaf” Smith.
The Heroes Project gave students an opportunity to explore role models and practice skills related to research, interviewing, and presentations, and to share their new knowledge with a wider audience. “The project made a huge impact on the students,” said teacher Elizabeth Hall. “When they saw role models like Curtis Pride, they said, ‘I want to be like that.’ Our students want to follow in the footsteps of the heroes — to become everything from a deaf pilot to the president.”