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Portraying Thomas Jefferson Enlivens History for Warren Student

Immaculata junior Joseph Piccirillo engages in debate in character.

Imagine having the opportunity to interview an iconic historical figure. What would you ask him or her?

Immaculata students in Thomas Welsh’s AP US History class—including junior Joseph Piccirillo, of Warren—have the opportunity to do just that when participating in a unique lessonen titled “Clio’s Dinner Party,” named for the Greek muse of history. The experience, which will occur intermittently throughout the school year and will correlate to the time period being taught in class, has one or two students research and role-play historical figures in a debate type setting.

Afterwards, the rest of the class asks questions of their historical guests, simulating a press conference.

The class of 19 recently held their first such lesson: Junior Matthew Ackerman, of Hillsborough, portrayed Alexander Hamilton while Joseph portrayed Thomas Jefferson.

In full costume, the two debated political points that were important during the foundation of America’s government. The conversation focused on Hamilton’s support of a national bank and Jefferson’s opposition to it, as well as state rights and individual liberties. The entire discourse was unscripted and relied on the two students’ knowledge of their characters’ stances.

Afterwards, the class held a panel discussion during which more unscripted questions were asked.

“It was a challenge portraying such important historical figures and a great educational experience," Andrew said. "I got a better understanding of the issues of the time and see how they affect Americans even today.“

The activity culminated in a newsletter written by the class as a whole. Students used the notes they took during their panel discussion to put together a comprehensive article covering all major parts of the debate.

“The point of this exercise is to allow the class to appreciate the historical lessons in a whole new way,” Welsh elaborated. “It gives them a first-hand look at how a meeting with these important people might have gone.”

He says he plans to continue these lessons, allowing each of his 19 pupils at least one chance at portraying a historical figure.

Submitted by Terry Kuboski

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