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History Comes Alive for Hollin Meadows Students

By Gale Curcio

In just two days, students at Hollin Meadows Elementary School met with Betsy Ross, a native American Indian storyteller, Cleopatra, Confederate spy Loretta Velazquez and Louisa May Alcott.

They were all played by Dianna Diatz, a one-woman theater. She specializes in making history come alive, and Glenna Orr, reading teacher at Hollin Meadows, had invited her to come for two days of presentations last week.

Orr said, "The Social Studies program at Hollin Meadows Elementary School incorporates the study of history, geography, civics, and economics. Students learn about the beliefs, contributions and achievements of significant individuals. Students discover how diverse people, different cultures, government, conflict, and a desire for freedom, and equality have built a foundation for our American ideals. The Social Studies program promotes informational texts that are rich in content and support student development in the skills of Reading, Writing, and Oral Language," she said.

"Through the storyteller's vivid descriptions and accurate historical reenactments, the students of Hollin Meadows Elementary will acquire an understanding of the contributions that selected individuals have made throughout history."

Principal Jon Gates said, "Her [Dianna Diatz] presentations coincide with the program of study. They reinforced the content of Social Studies programs and her portrayals are consistent with what we are studying."

Diatz said that she used to do a lot of photography and dressed for her shoots. She first started doing reenactments at Claude Moore Colonial Farm. When she realized that she could make money doing reenactments, she began to branch out. Diatz lives in Alexandria, and has performed for Gadsby's Tavern Museum, Alexandria First Night, Alexandria Public Schools, Alexandria Public Libraries, American Red Cross Waterfront Festival and the Alexandria Arts Safari. She has also performed at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore and for the Dolley Madison Congressional Women's Club.

WHILE THE YOUNGER STUDENTS got to see Diatz's portrayal of Betsy Ross and a native American Indian storyteller, the fourth and fifth-grade students saw the Civil War through the eyes of a Confederate spy.

Dressed in period dress with cape and basket, Diatz told the story of Loretta Velazquez, who was believed to have been a Confederate soldier and spy. She first asked the students what they thought made a good spy. Some thought they needed to be brave, while others thought they needed to be sneaky. Diatz, aka Velazquez, said that you have to be good at observing people.

"People say one thing and mean another," she said.

The students were interested in her role and had lots of questions. They wanted to know if she went on vacation ['no time']; if she had pets ['no, too hard to keep']; and if she had to speak different languages ['not for this war']. She never broke character throughout her presentation, which was a combination of answering questions and sharing information. When students mentioned high-tech devices, Internet and cars, she said that she didn't know what they were talking about.

At the end of one of her presentations, Gates said, "I thought she was wonderful. I was impressed at the breadth of her knowledge and her ability to stay in character."