Historical essays win honors for Henrico fifth-graders

Fifteen Henrico fifth-graders were honored for their essays on historical topics at the 10th Annual Historical Awareness Project Awards Reception, held Nov. 29 at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center.

Sponsored by the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee in cooperation with the Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks and Henrico County Public Schools, the project is based on the county’s fifth-grade curriculum and is designed to provide students with an awareness of their local heritage, while encouraging them and their families to learn more about their community history.

This year, students were invited to write about events, persons, or places that shaped Henrico history, and chose to write about historical figures from Pocahontas to Virgil Hazelett. At the awards ceremony, first-place winners from each of the five magisterial districts read their essays aloud to the audience, which included many of the students’ teachers and principals, as well as Henrico County Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Russo and Pat O’Bannon and Frank Thornton of the Board of Supervisors.

Inspiration, enjoyment, humor
The first-place winner from the Brookland District, Anna Thill of Echo Lake E.S., chose to write about the legendary educator Virginia Randolph. “Virginia Randolph was more than just a teacher,” wrote Thill. “She was an inspiration to many people.”

Noting that the educator began her career at the age of 16, Thill described the one-room schoolhouse where Randolph conducted her lessons for African American students, and the emphasis she placed on skills such as gardening, woodworking and sewing in addition to academics. While some parents of that era disliked Randolph’s ideas and methods and preferred strictly book-learning, Thill expressed her hopes that students to come will enjoy the opportunity to engage in more hands-on learning, and shared her wish that farms will once again be plentiful in the Henrico County of the future.

Aare’n Johnson of Arthur Ashe E.S. won first place from the Fairfield District with her essay entitled, “The Life of Pocahontas,” which focused on the Indian princess’ role as a peacekeeper. Johnson highlighted her essay with events in Pocahontas life that included saving the life of Captain John Smith, helping the settlers and marrying John Rolfe, and concluded, “Whenever I think of Pocahontas I think of peace, braveness and love.”

Three Chopt District winner Audrey Lowe wrote her essay about the Short Pump community, its odd name and its beginnings with the tavern that provided a rest stop for travelers between Richmond and Charlottesville. Comparing the largely rural nature of the area with Short Pump’s modern-day status as a commercial and residential hub, Lowe pointed out that the community has become “a small city type society.” She concluded by expressing her appreciation for the enjoyment she found in researching and learning about her community. “I loved learning how Short Pump was named!” Lowe added. “What a funny legend!”

Like Anna Thill, Lia Deasy of Tuckahoe E.S. in the Tuckahoe District wrote about Virginia Randolph, highlighting her key role in establishing Arbor Day in Henrico County, in addition to her contributions to the education of African-Americans. “Her dedication to her work gave us the right to go to school together today,” wrote Deasy. “She taught us that if we do not do something, nothing would change.”

The Varina District first-place winner, DeAyra Oliver of Baker E.S., wrote about the African American community at Gravel Hill that flourished after Quaker John Pleasants freed his slaves and left them his land. Noting that a great grandfather was “one of the fortunate children of slavery who inherited land in Gravel Hill,” Oliver said that her mother grew up hearing stories about the area, and added, “I enjoy how the Gravel Hill community helped to shape my family history.”

From Dale to Vandervall
Among other award recipients recognized at the ceremony were Marcus Rand and Logan Anderson, both of ELES in the Brookland District. Taking second and third place, respectively, the two wrote essays about retiring County Manager Virgil Hazelett (Rand) and the history of Henrico County schools (Anderson).

Treasure Bailey and Justin Cooke, both of Arthur Ashe E.S. and both with essays about Pocahontas, placed second and third in the Fairfield District.

From the Three Chopt District, Sarah Bender of Colonial Trail E.S. took second place with an essay about Pocahontas, and Gretchen Neary of Three Chopt E.S. took third place with a story about Virginia Randolph.

Aliana Ayala’s second-place essay focused on William Leroy Vandervall and the key role he played in the African American community of Quioccasin, where Ayala’s school Pemberton E.S. is located. Also hailing from Pemberton and the Tuckahoe District, third-place winner Davis Buckbee wrote about Henricus from the viewpoint of Sir Thomas Dale.

Chris Bolden wrote about the history of his school, Sandston E.S., to take second place in the Varina District, while third-place winner Daija Tyler of Montrose E.S. focused on the importance of the Civil War.
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September 2017
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