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West Valley City Journal

WV kindergartners recite Gettysburg Address to city council audience

Jul 28, 2017 12:33PM ● By Travis Barton

American Preparatory Academy kindergartners pose for a photo with the West Valley City Council after reciting its memorized performance of the Gettysburg Address. (Kevin Conde/West Valley City)

Abraham Lincoln just perked up in his grave. 

Around 20 kindergartners from the American Preparatory Academy’s West Valley 1 Campus recited the Gettysburg Address during a West Valley City Council meeting in June. 

“I really like to show them off and give them that opportunity to show themselves off and be proud of themselves,” said Ayla Pratt, an APA kindergarten teacher. 

The students performed the famous presidential poem about the civil war battle during the school’s Memorial Day assembly in May. Then School Director Laura Leavitt arranged for the city council performance. 

Part of the school curriculum at APA, the Gettysburg Address is taught a few lines at a time each year as the students go more in depth each year. Fifth grade is typically when they learn it in its entirety. 

But Pratt said three years ago they challenged their kindergartners to learn the complete address and they’ve done each year since. 

“By the time they get into fifth grade, they’ll already have four repetitions…and they will be able to more easily identify with the Gettysburg Address and what it truly means,” Pratt said. 

While some may wonder why such a speech is shared with children who may not comprehend what it means, Pratt said it all depends on its explanation. 

“If you put it into their own level of language and relate it to something that they could know, then they do understand a little more about it and as they build upon each year, it gets easier and easier for them to know,” she said. 

Pratt gave the example in her first year memorizing the address, when she challenged a few students to study the meaning behind the words. They shared what they learned at a performance using “100 percent their words.”

“It was really inspirational,” Pratt said. 

She said though the students may not understand their achievement right now, they do recognize the sense of amazement in a person’s face when they see the kindergartners’ performance. 

“They don’t quite know what’s so awesome about it yet, but they can see that people around them are amazed by what they can do,” Pratt said, “and at 5-years-old, that’s what you’re looking for is everyone else’s approval of you.”

Students begin learning the address right after Christmas break and takes them until around March to fully memorize it. 

Pratt said they work on a sentence or a few words at a time with an emphasis on pronunciation to better speak the trickier words like “proposition” or “consecrate.” 

What nails down the group’s ability to recite the 271-word address, Pratt said, are the actions they do along with it. 

“With actions you build muscle memory, it’s kind of like playing the piano or an instrument. You are able to learn it much easier if you put actions to something,” she said. 

As West Valley City Photographer Kevin Conde organized the kids for a photo after their performance, he told them they did an amazing job. To which the kids responded with a coordinated repetition of the word, “amazing.” 

Pratt said they conduct their classes to be responsive. When students are told they’ve done a good job, they respond accordingly. 

“We have a bunch of fun cheers like that to encourage their positive reinforcement,” Pratt said. 

As their teacher, Pratt said it’s a rewarding experience helping the students wade into the shallow end of the American history pool. 

“To know that they are learning a major part of their history at such a young age is really great to me,” she said. 

She later added, “I know that looking back on it when [the students are] older, they will be able to see better of how much they’ve achieved and what an awesome achievement it is to be able to memorize that.”