|Clad in a Union general's uniform, complete with sword and sash, Gen. John White Geary told local elementary students last week that he fought the Civil War in the name of freedom and tolerance.
"There should always be tolerance for others," the general declared.
As played by Benjamin Pegis, Geary (who later became the first mayor of San Francisco) visited third graders at Bubb Elementary School on Monday as part of its "History Alive" series. In that program, parents, teachers and community members dress up as influential historical figures and discuss their lives and work with students. This year, teachers Niki Dobrovolsky and David Franklin brought in figures of American history who fought for freedom and civil rights.
Geary told students he had been the governor of Kansas, but was disappointed with the state's pro-slavery practices, and he resigned to become a general in the Union army. He added that he was known for his progressive politics, especially in San Francisco, and that the city's residents named Geary Boulevard after him.
"He did a lot for San Francisco, and some of his progressive thinking takes place today in the city," said Pegis, a retired police officer and local karate instructor. "He thought all people were equal."
Dobrovolsky, a student teacher, organized the History Alive series in hopes that students would learn more by interacting with historical figures. Abraham Lincoln, Georgia O'Keefe and Abigail Adams have all visited the classroom. The Wright Brothers were to make an appearance later in the week.
"We have a lot of English language learners and it is hard for them to be talked at," Dobrovolsky said. "I wanted to do something that was more memorable, because nothing was memorable when I was kid."
Since many of the actors picked figures that inspired them, they came with costumes or props, and were able to answer students' questions with unusual accuracy. Pegis, who is involved in Civil War reenactments, had his own sword and uniform, which "is an exact replica of the uniform a general would wear," he said.
After the short presentations, students asked the historical figures about their influences. The questions were in preparation for the third grade students' own presentations: In April, they will dress up as their favorite figures and perform for parents and friends.
Before Gen. Geary's visit, Georgia O'Keefe came to the classroom Monday. Colette Rabin, a Mountain View resident and Dobrovolsky's supervisor at San Jose State, portrayed the famous artist, showing students a book filled with her paintings.
"I only used colors in the paintings," Rabin/O'Keefe said during her presentation. "I lived in a room that was decorated with rocks, but I painted in color."
Describing her struggles as a female artist during the early 20th century, O'Keefe told students to never give up on their dreams.
"When things are conventional, it means we follow things people want us to do," she said. "But, even though I was a married woman, I spent the summer in the desert alone, because that is what I needed to do."
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