“Remember the Ladies” has become one of the most famous lines Abigail Adams ever penned. More than 200 years later, Jennifer McHugh’s third grade class at the West Tisbury School is doing just that. They have been working with Phyllis Vecchia of Creative Drama on a Women in History theater program, which brings to life important female historical figures.
This project was created almost a decade ago, and has also been running at the Tisbury, Chilmark, and Charter schools. It is funded in part by the individual schools and by private donors. “My daughter was about 10, and I felt like she wasn’t learning the history of women in school. I thought things had changed, but apparently not,” said Ms. Vecchia.
At the West Tisbury School, Ms. Vecchia is waiting for the kids when they come back from gym. They choose a letter to sit on around the alphabet carpet in Ms. McHugh’s class. Some are squirming with excitement and eying the costumes laid out on tables around the room. There are tricorner hats, princess dresses, and mobcaps. It’s the day for Abigail Adams. The list of characters is projected on the smartboard in front of the kids, and Ms. Vecchia whips out her reading glasses to begin going through the parts in the play.
“She brings the history to life. This kind of learning is important, because the kids who might not always shine become engaged, especially struggling readers who have trouble learning the curriculum from a book. It’s another pathway,” said Ms. McHugh.
The play covers the highlights of the American Revolution, including the Boston Tea Party and the Shot Heard Round the World. Once the kids settled on their parts, they made a mad dash for the costumes and emerged from the frenzy as redcoats, Paul Revere, King George, and Abigail Adams herself.
The alphabet carpet was designated as the stage, and cleared of any wayward actors who shouldn’t have been on until the next scene; then — action.
“When I’m writing the scripts, I ad-lib a lot of the lines and try to make it funny. I also try to add a lot of physical action,” said Ms. Vecchia. After writing around 10 scripts for this project, she has her method down: The audience was laughing without reserve, and those on stage often found it a challenge to remain in character and keep from collapsing into giggles. Time in class with Ms. Vecchia feels like a game; however, she’s teaching the kids an important lesson that’s often neglected in textbooks. “In the social studies books now, women get little paragraphs. It’s the history of men,” said Ms. Vecchia. “Especially with these young kids, they grew up with their moms in powerful positions, leading companies and such. They don’t realize that it wasn’t always like that.”
This is an aspect of history that teachers have to make an effort to bring into the classroom. Ms. McHugh skipped her lunch break to help tidy up the classroom after the play.
Educating kids about all of their history is incredibly important. “I think it’s really critical for young women and men to teach that women were on the forefront of shaping history,” said Ms. Vecchia. “It’s important that girls learn about their history, and learn about these potential role models. I want to empower young women.”