As part of “An Evening of Oratory,” a special event organized by members of the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellows program, middle school students from across the Midwest performed original and historical speeches on Monday, April 22, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum (500 W. US Hwy. 24, Independence, Mo. 64050).
More than 25 student orators from Independence, Fort Osage, and Raytown School Districts were joined by out-of-town students from Wichita, Kansas, and Omaha, Nebraska. Students performed in front of the public and a representative from Ford’s Theatre. This first-time Midwest regional event marked the fourth year the Truman Library hosted Bridger students, but the first year other Midwest area schools were able to attend.
“This is an amazing experience for students. When they compose original speeches, they have a chance to voice their concerns using persuasive and rhetorical strategies. It takes on a larger purpose and their concerns are supported by facts. Through the Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellows program, we work all year to teach the students how to be effective speakers and back up their claims using research,” said Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellow, Jeff Weary, a social studies teacher from Bridger Middle School in Independence, Mo. “These are not simply students sharing their opinions; they are informed and passionate speakers.”
“I love that this event provides an opportunity for students to really lift their voices. When students have a forum with a large audience and a prominent stage, they gain experience that will help them speak comfortably in any setting,” said Ford’s National Oratory Fellow Melissa Woodward, an English teacher at Osage Trail Middle School in Independence, Mo.
“For some outgoing and articulate students, it is easy to embrace public speaking, but others are able to find their voices by participating within this program,” says Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellow Jennifer Stockdell, a social studies teacher at Bridger Middle School. “Some students discover they have a passion for public speaking that they never knew they had before. It is a wonderful thing to witness students realize that they have the ability to make great positive change by speaking about what is important to them.”
A follow-up event took place Wednesday night, April 24, to highlight additional speakers from Bridger Middle School at the Truman Library. The Library has been extremely supportive of the event each year. The program has grown the last eight years at Bridger.
The Ford’s Theatre National Oratory Fellows program, started in 2011, trains teachers to integrate oratory skills, such as performance and speechwriting, into their curricula. The program seeks to highlight the importance of implementing oratory skills within English, Language Arts and History classes. Inspired by President Lincoln’s oratory, this approach to teaching and learning focuses on the power of the spoken word, throughout history and in our present time.
What started many years ago within a single class has grown to encompass the entire student body of more than 800 students for the past four years at Bridger. Within that time, thousands of students have been able to find their voice, or at least understand what it is like to speak in front of an audience, and to know what it will take to be effective. Now with the spread of the program to other metro-area schools such as Fort Osage and Raytown districts many more students will have the opportunity as well.
With ongoing and continued support within these districts more students can continue to achieve far beyond the walls of their classroom and district assessments. For more information on Ford’s Theatre and the Ford’s Theatre Society, please visit www.fords.org.
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