Lesson in Perserverance

A visit From Abraham Lincoln

A hush fell over the library at Katonah Elementary School when Abraham Lincoln strode in. It was President Abraham Lincoln, looking exactly as if he’d walked out of the pages of one of the library’s many books about him. He was on his way to deliver a speech at Gettysburg, he told the students, seeming preoccupied. It was November 19, 1863, two years into the Civil War. He would be speaking at the dedication of a cemetery to fallen soldiers.

All of Katonah-Lewisboro’s elementary schools had a visit from Mr. Lincoln in February. The dramatic presentation by actor Lou Del Bianco made the giant of a man accessible to young students. Through playful games as well as somber stories, Lincoln’s formative experiences and the theme of perseverance came alive.

Classroom discussions before and after the presentation augmented the learning

Like many teachers, second grade teacher Kimberly Buckley prepared her students for the presentation by reading books about Abraham Lincoln before the visit. Her class was familiar with many of the obstacles Lincoln encountered even after becoming president.  "We decided it was his kind heart and perseverance that led the way," she said. 

"My students sang with him, laughed with him and they were engaged the whole time," said teacher Jill Walsh about the presentation. "They had a lot of questions at the end, particularly about the impact he had on abolishing slavery."

Singing "Oh Susanna"

Contrasting then and now

Through Del Bianco’s stories, students caught glimpses of Abraham Lincoln as a child who loved to read, who watched out for his younger sister and even sung some of the same songs they did, including “Oh Susanna” and “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

Del Bianco also made it easy for students to contrast their lives with that of Abraham Lincoln. “Growing up on the prairie, books were scarce. I walked 10 miles to borrow a book from my neighbor,” Mr. Lincoln told the students.

“I walk seven minutes to get to KES,” said one student.

Primary Sources

The presentation included actual letters and speeches by Lincoln, which teachers read excerpts of aloud, including his first campaign letter and the Emancipation Proclamation. The presentation closed by Lincoln reading a portion of the Gettysburg Address, then taking off his hat and saying “thank you,” to the students as Del Bianco.

“I knew you weren’t the real Abraham Lincoln because you’re not as tall!” said one student.

“Actually, I am exactly the same height as Lincoln,” said Del Bianco, “Six foot and four inches. But I know what you mean. President Lincoln seems much taller to me, too.”

During the closing Q&A, students’ thoughtful questions, from “How many speeches did Abraham Lincoln make?” to “Where did Abraham Lincoln’s neighbor get his book?” showed how closely they had been listening.

Thank you, school PTOs, for your support  and funding this program.