By: Jen Russon
Veteran teacher and historical society leader, Stacy Lehrman is no stranger to the Broward History Fair, and has, for the past decade, guided students to victory with papers and documentaries submitted on National History Day.
This year, however, was markedly different in that Lehrman’s group project, Breaking Barriers: the History of Mental Health snagged first place for a 7-minute dramatic play about advancements in the care and treatment of America’s mentally ill.
“My group did extensive research both together and individually to make historically accurate costumes, set, and dialogue based on actual letters from the antebellum period,” said Lehrman.
The Coral Glades High School U.S. history teacher said she met after school regularly with eleventh grader Jamie Metoyer and seniors, Viviana Jimenez and Chelsea Lucien, to put together the true story of abolitionist and nurse, Dorthea Dix.
“In 1841, those thought to be mentally ill were subjected to terrible conditions in hospitals and jails, and often treated with bloodletting,” explained Lehrman.
She said by the end of the project, her group felt grateful to Dix for leading the way on resources many of us take for granted – like a school therapist.
Best known as a superintendent of army nurses during the Civil War, Dorothea Lynde Dix also advocated on behalf of the indigent mentally ill.
Credited with starting the first American mental asylums, Dix had the courage and tenacity to appeal to the U.S. Congress, at a time when women weren’t allowed to speak before their government leaders.
The Coral Glades students who depicted this crucial barrier and how Dix shattered it, recorded the screams of the mentally ill and bound one of their fellow cast members in a straight-jacket.
Lehrman said she was wowed by their decision to keep it 100 percent authentic and play a recording of Dix’s appeal to Congress, read by a man, and certainly not a female.
“Their performance was incredible, but really what I’m most proud of is how they used their primary sources, and answered the judges’ questions so insight-fully at the end,” said Lehrman.
The proud history teacher, who has taught at the Coral Springs school since it opened, said the win was bittersweet, as each of the girls has an AP exam on the days the national competition in Tallahassee is scheduled to take place.
Dr. Louise Ball, who organized the fair, said J.P. Taravella, Forest Glen, Ramblewood, and St. Andrew Catholic School competed this year.
Taravella High School picked up a first-place award for an academic paper. Ramblewood Middle School received an honorable mention award in the documentary category.
The Broward History Fair has taken place annually since 2006 and was held at Pompano Beach High School with documentary, performance, paper, and exhibit categories based on the theme, “Breaking Barriers in History.”
- Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.
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