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The City Journals

Why is Susan B. Anthony on the dollar coin? Who really was Alexander Hamilton? Ask a Longview fifth grader

Jun 10, 2019 11:05AM ● By Julie Slama

Longview students learn about people who have impacted their lives during the school’s eighth annual Amazing Americans fair. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In Longview Elementary’s multi-purpose room, there were authors next to musicians, athletes standing by scientists, entrepreneurs within arms’ length of adventurers and military personnel situated next to human rights activists. It was a day where all amazing Americans came to share their stories, or rather fifth graders dressed in costumes, representing their heroes.

Fifth-grader Kendall Brun, dressed as an early 1900s aviator, told how Amelia Earhart, as a girl, liked to catch bugs and created a roller coaster on her grandparents’ roof. Then, as she got older, helped nurse sick veterans in Canada during World War II, before she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

“She showed that women achieve hard things and be successful,” Kendall said. “I learned that she tried and had to try again, but she overcame difficulties so she could be successful. I want to be an inspiring woman and achieve more and be successful.”

That is part of the reason why fifth-grade teacher Tina Nilsson began the Amazing Americans program eight years ago.

“We started doing this instead of state reports because they can learn corn is grown in Iowa, but people did amazing things and they learn they have to work hard, they may fail, but they get up and learn from their mistakes,” she said. “It’s an important life skill to persevere and these kids are learning that. These people have been influential in their lives and by learning about them, it’s giving them confidence and a better outlook.”

With the program, students choose their top three Americans from a list of 450 different Americans who did something to improve society, Nilsson said. 

Teachers then assign the Americans for students to research their lives and character traits they admire. They also take from the Americans’ lives and create a cause-and-effect example, compare them to another American and determine what goals motivated them.

“Students read about their American, learn research skills and then, they take the information they’ve learned, and build a report. They give an oral report and create a trifold to present,” she said about the four-week project.

Nilsson said the trifolds are done in class so it’s the student’s own work, plus, they’re able to learn from each other.

“It’s really cool to see the students waiting for their glue to dry on their trifold and learn what the person next to them has learned about their Amazing American. There’s a real synergy that they wouldn’t have if they did it at home and they’re really proud of what they’ve accomplished,” she said.

New to the project this year, was also creating a computer presentation about their Amazing American.

“They learned to make a Google slide presentation, which turned out to be a little harder than some thought with learning how to create the slide how they wanted,” Nilsson said. “Throughout it all, students learned something more about the American they choose.”

Fifth-grader Philip Holland did, as he learned that Duke Ellington played the jazz music he wanted and enjoyed.

“He learned to play piano when he was seven, but quit to play baseball,” he said. “At age 17, he was playing again, but playing rag and jazz not traditional piano. I learned he didn’t quit because he was expected to play certain pieces, but instead, he created his own orchestra and won Grammies because he played what he wanted and became amazing.”

Philip said by researching Ellington, he learned “to follow my heart and be a leader, not a follower.”

Close by was classmate Maicee Johnson, who was inspired by the humorous teaching of Dr. Seuss.

“He used to draw and doodle in text books and was whimsical, much like Shel Silverstein, who also is a really good author, poet and artist,” she said. “I learned the Grinch was a flop at first, but he continued to write and try – and that he really wasn’t a doctor.”

Not only did families learn about the Amazing Americans, but schoolmates wove through the rows of trifolds and presenters.

Fourth-grader Mica Ortega took notes about Pocahontas.

“I’m getting ideas of what I’d like to research next year,” she said.

Classmate Jillian Woodroof said it would be fun to be President George Washington.

“He was a really good guy, I mean, man,” she said.

Fourth-grade teacher Mike Okamura said he asked his students to learn two new facts about the Amazing Americans.

“I learned that our 11th president, James Polk, was governor of Tennessee before becoming president,” he said. “These fifth-grade students put a lot of effort into their presentations and it’s something they’ll remember and about who they really were and what they achieved. Doing this is something my fourth graders are looking forward to.”