Byline: Sandy Strickland
In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as president, the Beatles exploded on the music scene, Chubby Checker danced the twist and Ken became Barbie's boyfriend.
Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, Pine Forest Elementary opened as the first school on the Southside for African-American students.
For its 13th annual show last Thursday, the Grant Road school's second-graders presented a musical history lesson, "Happy 50th Birthday, Pine Forest!" They held three performances, including one for parents and the community.
The plot involved four students who were curious about their school's history. So on the day before the big bash, they spent all night looking through the history notes of their teacher, Terri Wester. The musical was co-written by teacher Laura Hammock and Juan Unzueta, who work together during the summer at Theatre Jacksonville.
"What I wanted to do was research events that happened in 1961," said Hammock, who also choreographed the show. "I tried to focus on positive things. I wanted the audience to understand its history. In the end, the children learned a lot about the history as well. A lot of the kids didn't know about segregation, and that was shocking to them."
Pine Forest has gone through several incarnations during its 50 years. In 1970, the school's faculty was integrated. After the court-ordered desegregation ruling, it became a fifth- and sixth-grade center in 1972.
Then a dramatic change occurred in 1991 - it became a magnet arts school. In 2005, it became a dedicated magnet arts facility drawing students not only from the Southside, but from Mandarin, Riverside, Arlington, Northside and the Beaches. It also serves as a feeder to LaVilla School of the Arts.
AN EDUCATIONAL PLAY
The musical boasted a cast of about 90. Hammock said the show was a team effort involving Pine Forest's other second-grade teachers: Linda Behner, Kimberly Drawdy, Lauren Carpenter, Geri Clare and Christina MacDowell.
The events were depicted in musical numbers, such as the Beatles reprising "Twist and Shout" for their screaming fans and the Temptations working the audience, while a PowerPoint slide show flashed historical scenes.
"They don't realize they are learning so much while they are dancing, learning lines and seeing the visual history," Hammock said.
For instance, gas was 27 cents a gallon, a typical car cost $2,800, "Westside Story" and "101 Dalmatians" were among the top-grossing films, George Clooney and Michael J. Fox were born and the Motown sound was going uptown, downtown and all around. …