Students Inspired by Kennedy’s Legacy

The Perry School visited the JFK Presidential Library and Museum on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. (Rachel Vazquez/ BU News Service)
The Perry School visited the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. (Rachel Vazquez/ BU News Service)

By Rachel Vazquez
BU News Service

BOSTON — The projector lit the spacious classroom. Fourth and fifth graders huddled over wooden tables and faint whispers filled the air as the students began to discuss their observations, questions, and inferences about the photo on the screen: it was an inscribed coconut shell from John F. Kennedy’s WWII days in the Pacific.  Mauve, a fifth-grade student and designated note-taker at one table kept track of her classmates’ findings in a three-column chart, neatly labeled “O”, “Q”, and “I”. Mauve said she learned the research method last year from Ms. Moran, the fourth-grade teacher at Oliver Hazard Perry School in Dorchester who organized the field trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

Like residents of many cities, some Bostonians often don’t visit the city’s tourist sites, and some take them for granted, however Moran stressed the importance of exposing kids to these local sites, especially in an area that is so rich with history and famous for breeding famous Americans. “There’s a lot for [the kids] to learn as far as being Americans…being citizens,”  said Moran. “Citizenship is important, and the Kennedy’s gave a lot.”

According to Moran, the JFK Library and Museum is a great place to “begin the conversation that anybody can make an impact on the world around them.” She said she hopes that the students “would be inspired to think about being an example to others.” When two-thirds of Moran’s class admitted to never visiting the memorial before, which is located directly across the harbor from the Perry School in Dorchester, she knew a classroom outing was necessary, especially in light of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.

The Perry School’s fourth and fifth graders had already been celebrating Kennedy’s legacy in the classroom and prepping for the anticipated field trip all month long. Moran’s students were familiar with the late John F. Kennedy, his family, and the messages he conveyed in his speeches. Many students were also impressed by his heroism in WWII and the medals he received for it, which they were able to see at the museum. Fourth-grader Alessandro said, in his opinion, Kennedy is inspiring because “he protected 11 people from dying,” in WWII when his boat, PT-109, abruptly sank.

After the initial classroom activity where students learned about primary sources from a JFK expert, the group headed to the museum where an oversized, royal blue “Kennedy and Johnson” banner hung from the ceiling and welcomed fourth and fifth graders to the 1960 presidential campaign. Glass-cased windows full of political memorabilia lined the hallway, ultimately leading to the screening area where Kennedy’s inaugural address played repeatedly.

In fifth-grader Andrew’s opinion, Kennedy won the 1960 race over Nixon because “he seemed like a bett-ah lead-ah.” He and his classmates at Perry School might not agree on why President Kennedy is influential, but simply put, Andrew said, “he just tried to change the world.”

By the end of the day, the fourth and fifth grade students left the JFK Library and Museum feeling empowered and motivated to do whatever they could for their country. They said they plan to help out in their communities by cleaning up local beaches, assisting younger schoolmates, and dealing with bullies in the classroom. Although fifth-grader Andrew boasted that “there aren’t actually any bullies at my school.” If there were, though, Andrew not only said that he would stand up and say something, but that he thinks his whole school would, too.

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