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Out of the mouths of babes: Patwin students perform in Oral Language Fair

Emily Sutcliffe, Julie Knoepfler and Leah Rosenheim peform at Patwin’s Oral Language Fair. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photos

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From page A9 | February 19, 2013 |

Students at Patwin Elementary School shared their dreams for the world during the school’s first Oral Language Fair this month.

They spoke of a world without racism, violence, loneliness and pollution; they called on their peers and the adults in their lives to do more to make the world a better place; and they did it bravely on stage, in front of an audience of family members, teachers and classmates, as well as a panel of judges.

It was all part of the tradition that follows Nikki Smith wherever she goes.

The new principal at Patwin has been organizing Oral Language Fairs for 20 years now, beginning with her teaching days in Oakland. She later brought the fairs to Davis, first to Valley Oak Elementary School when she taught there, and later to Korematsu Elementary School. Now she’s brought the fair to Patwin, and, judging by the enthusiasm and talent on display there last week, it’s likely to return.

The theme of this year’s Oral Language Fair was “I Dream a World.”

Performing solo, in small groups or as part of a whole class, students recited both original work and iconic pieces.

Sue Britz’s fifth-grade class recited the preamble to the Constitution, while a group of seven girls performed “What A Wonderful World,” in both spoken word and sign language.

Fourth-grader Kavi McKinney recited excerpts from an essay on human rights in Tibet. His impassioned performance about Chinese efforts to assimilate Tibetans into China included the plea, “peace starts within each one of us,” and earned a resounding ovation.

Meanwhile, sixth-grader Eric Chung left many in attendance choked up with his recitation of an original piece, “Who Made the Evil?”

Inspired by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Eric said, “My heart was crying for the little ones.

“Who is the evil? Was the 20-year-old shooter evil? Who sent him to us? If no one is born evil, then who created the evil?”

He spoke of being just a boy, unable to control the guns, wondering if the grown-ups would do anything about it.

“We children should start first,” he said. “Before it’s too late.”

Eric added that, “whenever this kind of tragedy happens, I realize … they never had any friends, they were always alone.”

Eric said he, too, was alone once. As a 7-year-old new to the United States, he didn’t speak the language, looked different and was ignored. He urged everyone to embrace people like that.

“Give your small hand to someone who is alone,” he said.

Other Patwin students dreamed of a world “where no one fights … where no one would pollute … where everyone has a house … where no one would say mean things … where class sizes are smaller.”

They spoke of racism, littering, of living in a world “where some would rather die than be who they are.”

The varied and powerful performances made the judges’ jobs difficult.

School board member Susan Lovenburg, Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant, Kate Snow from the district’s school climate office, and Smith’s father, Michael Shannon, were tasked with deciding which performers would move on to the showcase the following week. Kavi, Eric and many others moved on.

For Smith’s father, judging was a return to a gig he once regularly had — he’d been a judge since Smith started organizing Oral Language Fairs back in 1993. But once Smith’s own children — and Shannon’s grandchildren — started participating at Valley Oak and later Korematsu, he was disqualified.

Now that Smith is at Patwin — and her children aren’t — dad got his job back, and clearly could not have been happier to be there.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

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