Annual project at Devotion honors Kennedy

Third graders sing Forever Young by Bob Dylan at the culminating ceremony of the
annual “What John F. Kennedy Means to Me” Essay and Poetry Program in 2015. PHOTO FROM NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Third graders sing “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan at the culminating ceremony of the annual “What John F. Kennedy Means to Me” Essay and Poetry Program in 2015. PHOTO FROM NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Brookline residents will become doctors, teachers and more, maybe even the President of the United States.

The Edward Devotion School celebrates John F. Kennedy’s time at the school from first to third grade with an annual project that focuses on making Kennedy relatable to students.

Devotion sixth-grader Gianna Pentland, who completed the project when she was in third grade, said that it is special to go to the same school as a president.

“You can always say, ‘Oh yeah, JFK went to my school,’ and you tell your friends from other schools, and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, really?’ It’s kind of fun to have that,” Pentland said.

According to Devotion third grade teacher Gretchen Albertini, the project consists of field trips to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and to Kennedy’s house on Beals Street, where the students go on a personal, park rangerled tour of the house then write class poems. During the trips, they conduct research for an essay on Kennedy, and the project culminates in a ceremony outside the house on Beals Street, where the poems and essays are read aloud.

Albertini said that the classes swap essays, and the students vote on a winning essay for another class.

“Students tend to really be captured by the pieces that go straight to your heart or make really personal connections,” Albertini said. “It is really empowering for eight and 9 year olds to feel that they’re running the show.”

According to Supervisory Park

Ranger James Roberts, the teachers and park rangers teach the students more about Kennedy’s personal life than his politics, helping the students understand that Kennedy wasn’t too different from any kid today.

“All these things are meant to show them that although JFK was our 35th president, he was just a kid like them, living here in the first 10 years of his life,” Roberts said.

Roberts said that the students’ essays focus on a variety of aspects of Kennedy’s life, from his courage and willingness to stand up to bullies to his childhood illnesses. Pentland said she wrote about Kennedy playing sports as a child.

“His dad always used to tell him, ‘If you’re not going to be the captain or the best player on the team, why be on the team?’ I mainly talked about him and his sports, and how he was a role model in sports,” Pentland said.

Albertini said that Kennedy’s poor record as a student resonates with the third-graders. According to Roberts, Kennedy received lousy grades as a young child.

“The areas that he did well in were the ones he paid attention to, and if it wasn’t his interest, then he would just dismiss it as not being necessary,” Roberts said. “His mother tells us in her diary that he was very bright, very quick, very clever and could figure out a lot of things on his own.”

According to Albertini, knowing that Kennedy was not a stellar student helps the students relate to him more.

“They love to know that he wasn’t a great student but that he was really smart, he just didn’t always ace his work,” Albertini said. “I think they love to understand that he was human before he was also a president.”