Dozens of middle school students will perform original and historical speeches Monday at the Truman Library and Museum – a Midwest regional event that's part of the Ford's Theatre National Oratory Fellowship.
“An Evening of Oratory” will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. Monday at the library, including more than 25 middle school students from Independence, Fort Osage and Raytown schools, as well as Wichita, Kansas who will perform in front of a public audience and a representative from Ford's Theatre. A scheduling conflict will prevent students from Omaha, Nebraska from making the trip to participate.
Students from Bridger Middle School in Independence have been participating in this for several years, but this is the first time it includes students from other Midwest schools. Speeches will last about two minutes. An additional 25 students from Bridger will give speeches at a later event Wednesday evening.
Jeff Weary, a social studies teacher at Bridger and Ford's master fellow, called the event an “amazing experience” for students selected to give speeches.
“When they compose original speeches, they have a chance to voice their concerns using persuasive and rhetorical strategies,” Weary said in a release. “It takes on a larger purpose, and their concerns are supported by facts. Through the program, we work all year to teach students how to be effective speakers and back up their claims with research. These are not simply students sharing their opinions; they are informed and passionate speakers.”
Inspired by President Lincoln's oratory, the Ford's Theatre National Oratory Fellows program started in 2011 and trains teachers to integrate oratory skills such as performance and speechwriting into their curricula. Ford's Theatre is a historic – and active – venue in Washington, D.C. where Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.
Weary said teachers have envisioned for a few years how to give more students within the Fellowship a high-profile venue from which to speak. A local presidential library for a respected man certainly qualified.
“I love this opportunity for students to really give them a voice,” adds Osage Trail Middle School's Melissa Woodward, an English teacher and Ford's fellow.
Jennifer Stockdell, another social studies teacher at Bridger and Ford's fellow, said some outgoing and articulate students might easily embrace public speaking, but others find their way through the Fellowship program.
“Some students discover a passion for public speaking that they never knew they had before,” she said. “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.”