St. Kateri students bring history to life in Niskayuna

Kelsey Jawhir portrays Serena Williams at St. Kateri Tekakwitha School
Kelsey Jawhir portrays Serena Williams at St. Kateri Tekakwitha School

NISKAYUNA — Claire Smith spoke with poise and polish.

“My name is Rosa Parks,” said the fourth-grader, in a serious tone of voice. “I was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in the year 1913, on February 4.

“My parents got divorced when I was young, I never knew my father because I was little,” Smith continued. “I moved to Pine Level, Alabama, when I was 2 years old to live with my grandparents. It was me, my mother, my grandparents and little brother Sylvester.”

Smith dressed the way she believes Rosa would have dressed in the early 1900s. The 9-year-old wore a dark blue sweater over a button-down white blouse, sky blue skirt, a string of pearls and a small hat.

Members of St. Kateri’s third, fourth and fifth grades dressed as their new favorite figures from history on March 13, during the school’s third annual salute to Black History Month — which is observed in February. Teachers said a colleague who generally organizes the project is now on maternity leave; whose who were filling in on this year’s “Living Museum” needed a little extra time to put the show together.

The kids were anxious to tell others what they had learned. Miniature versions of baseball star Frank Robinson, golfer Tiger Woods, media star Oprah Winfrey, tennis player Serena Williams, basketball great Kobe Bryant, Justice Thurgood Marshall and Underground Railroad “conductor” Harriet Tubman all were in the group assembled in the school gymnasium.

Teachers said the children learned about the person they chose, wrote reports on their subjects and chose the proper wardrobes.

“It helps them with their public speaking, which is new to third-graders,” said Denise O’Connor, who teaches that grade. “It teaches them about famous black Americans and they learn from their peers, They’re so excited to share what they’ve learned and learn what other children have learned. So they learn from each other.”

The kids seemed anxious to share their stories with visitors.

“I’m Serena Williams,” said third-grader Sharai Canal, 8. “She’s a famous, black American female tennis player.”

Brendan Hudson, another third-grader, dressed in the orange and black colors of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. He posed as Frank Robinson, a member of dynamic Oriole teams of the 1960s and ’70s.

“I like baseball and he was really good at baseball,” said Hudson, 8. “He hit a 541-foot home run that went out of the stadium.”

Hudson loved that long shot — the only home run ball any player ever hit out of the Orioles’ former home park, Memorial Stadium. Frank crushed it on May 8, 1966, off Luis Tiant of the Cleveland Indians.

Other celebrities who appeared at St. Kateri included:

  • Elizabeth Eckford, played by Olivia Rodriguez, 8, a third-grader. “She was one of the ‘Little Rock 9,'” Rodriguez said. “She was one of the first to go to an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas.”
  • Tiger Woods, played by Teddy Grimmer, 10, a fourth-grader. “I have won a lot of money so I am really rich,” Grimmer said. “However, I am very generous and I have donated millions of dollars to charity.”
  • Michelle Obama, portrayed by Zarah Ismael, 9, a fourth-grader. “She was the 44th first lady,” Ismael said. “She skipped second grade.”
  • Ella Fitzgerald was channeled through Janiyah Rivera Franklin, 11, a fifth-grader. “I really love her music and I think her voice is beautiful,” Franklin said.
  • Kobe Bryant’s stand-in was Nathaniel Chotkowski, 10, a fifth-grader. “Kobe Bryant is a very good basketball player, he’s a very good person,” Chotkowski said. “He inspires me to get better in basketball.”

Claire Smith played her Rosa Parks with sincerity — especially when she talked about the events of Dec. 1, 1955. Smith said Parks had taken a seat on a segregated bus, and refused to give up the seat when a white male passenger stepped up into the vehicle.

“I had to go to court,” Smith said, as Rosa. “The judge said I had broken the law and I had to pay $14, which was a lot of money at the time.”

Smith added that she also took time and care with her costume. She and her mother shopped at Target for the skirt, sweater and accessories.

“But my mom wouldn’t let me get real pearls,” Smith said, smiling.

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected].

Categories: Saratoga County

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