Civil War historian James McPherson served as judge of a contest with a historical twist last Thursday, March 13, when he listened to students of The Cambridge School in Pennington recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
The retired Princeton University professor of American History is known for, among other titles, the Pulitzer-prize-winning book Battle Cry of Freedom.
Along with fellow judge, Pennsylvania State Representative Steve Santarsiero, Mr. McPherson heard recitations from students hoping to take part in the “Learn the Address” contest initiated by filmmaker Ken Burns to mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
Along with numerous partners, Mr. Burns launched a national effort encouraging everyone in America to video record themselves reading or reciting the speech.
Students at The Cambridge School were judged on their ability to deliver the speech from memory and evaluated by a standardized scoring rubric. The day’s winner was Jake Federico, who will travel with his family and representatives of The Cambridge School to Putney, Vermont, for the final of the contest on April 2. The final will be judged by Mr. Burns, whose 90-minute documentary, The Address will air on PBS, April 15 at 8 p.m.
In addition to focusing on Lincoln’s historic address, Mr. Burns’s documentary explores the mission of The Greenwood School in Putney, where students with learning differences practice, memorize, and recite the Gettysburg Address. The film has been described as unlocking “the history, context, and importance of President Lincoln’s most powerful address.”
Like The Greenwood School, The Cambridge School is an independent special education school for children who have been diagnosed with primary language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, ADHD, and auditory processing disorder, among others.
The Cambridge School, which describes it students as “learning different,” focuses on providing positive educational opportunities for its students, many of whom have language-based learning differences that require individualized attention. Located at the Straube Center in Pennington, it serves students from all over New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania, particularly Bucks County.
According to Assistant Head of School Melody Lorenz, The Cambridge School was the only New Jersey school invited to participate in the “Learn the Address” project and has partnered with The Greenwood School in order to help further the national conversation about learning differences.
“The judges were so touched by the student recitations that they told Mayor Anthony Persichilli about it,” said Ms. Lorenz. The mayor has invited students from the school to recite the address as a group at a Town Council meeting on April 7 in front of Council, parents, and the community as a whole.
For additional information about the contest and the film, visit: www.learntheaddress.org