PITTSFIELD — What do Princess Diana and actor Harrison Ford have in common? A history project by Crosby Elementary School fifth-grader Delanee Sweener.
Each year, the fifth-grade teachers at the school assign students a research project — typically the students' first big research project in their academic careers. This year's project was two-fold and started back in the fall. Students were assigned a year, between the 1960s and 2014. They first had to research and report on a woman in history who was or became notable in that year. That report was then entered into the Berkshire County Real Women Essay Contest.
Then for the spring semester, students studied a notable male who rose to fame in the same year as the female. They had to write about that man and then create a tri-fold poster board of other notable products, events or people who became known that year.
Sweener discovered in her research year of 1981 that the Lady Diana Spencer became a princess when she married Prince Charles of Wales. That same year, Harrison Ford became the face of a wildly successful film franchise about the fictional archaeologist, Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, when Director Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" debuted. To present her project at last week's Fifth-Grade Education Fair, Sweener donned a tiara and brought in toys and pictures from Ford's movies, like "Indiana Jones" and the "Star Wars" series.
"I got to learn a lot about people I would not have known about," she said.
Sitting next to her was her classmate Genevieve Cormier, who researched two women who were notable in 1982, Joan Jett, of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, one of the first women to start her own record label, and whose cover of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart; and Nancy Reagan, the late presidential First Lady who launched that year the "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign. After sharing her 1982 research with a second-grader touring the exhibits, Cormier said, "I feel really proud of all that we've actually done."
Not all people researched were entertainers. Noah Gates, for example, learned about Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, an attorney in Argentina who went on to succeed her husband, Néstor Kirchner, as the country's president in 2007. Alex Williams researched Sam Walton and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1962.
The teachers who spearhead the annual projects are Jeanne Lemmond, whose classes covered the 1960s and '70s; Denise Cherry, whose students studied the '80s and '90s, and Bridget McKeever, whose kids reviewed the 2000s.
They said the goals of the projects were to teach students not only about writing and history, but to talk to their parents and grandparents about their memories of history growing up. They also learned how to create timelines and compare and contrast subjects.
"They got a big kick out of seeing how technology has changed over time. Some of this stuff they've never seen. I hope they get a sense of how we build off of history," Lemmond said.