Teaching artist Darci Tucker returned to Miami March 2 to share her unique approach to history education and appreciation with Nichols students.
MIAMI - What began as a typical school day at Nichols Upper Elementary in Miami was soon transformed into a unique step back in American history.
Darci Tucker, a teaching artist from Colonial Williamsburg came to the school at the invitation of Nichols social studies teacher Jenny Machado.
Tucker is the dynamic talent behind "American Lives: History Brought to Life™!" where she offers a unique approach to history education and appreciation through the American folk-art of storytelling and theater arts. A veteran museum educator, she has over 20 years of experience teaching history at Colonial Williamsburg, the nation’s premier living history museum.
When asked what sparked her love of American history, Tucker was quick with her answer.
"Laura Ingalls Wilder," she explained smiling broadly. "It was so real to me! 'Little House on the Prairie,' I can still hear the panther screaming its way through the treetops chasing Pa home and I was just hooked."
'Little House on the Prairie' is a series of novels written by Wilder based on her childhood in the northern Midwestern U.S. in the 19th century.
While Tucker's fascination and love of history began with Wilder's time period, she soon found herself immersed in more, and over the years has developed and portrayed close to two-dozen characters from all different time periods in American history.
"Any history, any time period, I just love," said Tucker.
On Friday, March 2, Tucker performed her one-woman interactive play "Revolutionary Women," for Nichols students in their new media center.
Through three separate characters, two based on real women, and one a fictitious composite character, Tucker uses the play to invite her audience to examine women's rights and their roles in colonial America and contributions to the Revolutionary War effort.
Nichols students were first introduced to Jane Walker, a character formed from among the thousands of wives who accompanied the army doing support work during the war.
Next Tucker brought forth Elizabeth Thompson, one of two actual historical women represented in the play, embodying the cunning and tenacity of the Loyalist Spy.
Another costume change then introduced students to what appeared at first to be a colonial man but was, in fact, Deborah Samson, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to enlist in the Continental Army as "Robert Shurtliff" and fought for 1.5 years before she was discovered.
Throughout the production, Tucker involves her audience directly, giving them roles and interacting with them fully immersed in the character she is portraying.
Following the play, students had the opportunity to ask questions and share their observations.
Tucker said one of the aspects she appreciates most in her work with school-aged audiences is the possibility of inspiring them to a love of history.
"My real goal everytime I walk into a school is that I know some of these kids are walking in here thinking 'Gosh, I hate history. This is going to be so boring' and I think if just one kid in every school walks out going 'You know, that wasn't so bad' I might have changed somebody's life. Opened up a whole new path."
Tucker has performed at Miami schools in the past and was invited back again this year by Machado who secured grant funding from the Oklahoma Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"Darci has come here for several years now and we keep inviting her back because we love the performance, the kids love the performance," said Machado. "Some of the things I heard them saying afterward where 'She almost made me cry,' and 'I can't believe that really happened' and it just really brings history to life for these kids."
Machado said she is hopeful that she will be able to continue to receive the grant funding so Tucker will be able to keep returning to perform for Nichols students.
To learn more about Tucker and the programs and services she offers along with her husband Terry Yemm, visit the American Lives website at www.americanlives.net.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.