HARRIET BEECHER STOWE fourth-grade students pose for photographs following their Spirit Series performance of “Freedom Train.”

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE fourth-grade students pose for photographs following their Spirit Series performance of “Freedom Train.”


Andrea Feigner’s fourth-grade class transformed the Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School music room into the Southern states of the 19th century. Their task was to recreate abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s life and mission to free slaves through the underground railroad.

The class was stage-ready after weeks of practice and performed “Freedom Train” in front of an audience of teachers, families and fellow students. The play was brought to Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School through the nonprofit group, Spirit Series, which offers six original titles that celebrate the human spirit.

The program works with grades 4-8 to use drama as a tool to teach literacy and values.

The project was designed by Kent Pierce and fellow screenwriters in Los Angeles, and has since expanded to New England classrooms.

Pierce told the assembled audience the performance would take them back 167 years, to the time of plantations, the old south, and the story of Tubman. Pierce said students really stepped out of their fourth-grade selves and into their characters to tell the story in a mesmerizing way.

Students acted out scenes from the Senate’s debate over slavery, Tubman’s initial escape, and her return to lead others to freedom.

The fourth-graders also meditated on words like vision, faith, service and courage to relate the meanings of the words in their own lives.

Feigner said she was impressed with the program and how it got the best out her students. She said their understanding of history, and storytelling developed markedly in the weeks they worked on the play. Feigner said she would love to see the program continue after this pilot year.

“It’s just fabulous,” she said at the end of the performance.

Pierce said the beauty of the program lies in its inclusiveness and the team building that creates a supportive network. This was evident in the encouragement of a student learning English as a second language, who had a solo speaking role in the play, which surprised him at first — students are cast by a lottery.

The program was created to provide timeless teachings and stories of inspirational people such as Tubman, Socrates, Buddha and Galileo. Pierce remarked how although Tubman could not read or write, her life and character are what many aspire to and celebrate generations later.

“The motive is to push students toward a path of civic-minded adulthood,” he said.

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