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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
Who was Elizabeth Peratrovich? If someone were to ask students in Ketchikan that question on a random day of the year, they’d likely be able to describe her. But if they asked the students on Friday — which was Elizabeth Peratrovich Day — the children just might sing the answer.
Take, for example, students in Teresa Varnell’s first grade class from Fawn Mountain Elementary School and Tandra Thompson’s preschoolers from the Pioneer Home School. The two groups took to the Great Room at the Pioneer Home to celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich Day on Friday morning.
Elizabeth Peratrovich Day is celebrated every year in Alaska on Feb. 16, to recognize her efforts at eliminating discrimination and bringing about of equal rights in Alaska.
Thompson’s class made its way to the front of the room, in front of Pioneer Home residents, to start the celebrations, donning their colorful paper hats and sashes that had “ANS” and “ANB” painted on them — representing the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood, as Peratrovich worked with both.
The preschoolers took turns finishing Thompson’s sentences for the next few minutes.
“Elizabeth Peratrovich was,” Thompson said, putting the microphone up to a student in her class.
“A Native leader,” the student said.
Peratrovich worked for positive changes; she worked to pass a bill and she made an important speech — according to Thompson’s preschoolers.
“Her speech helped end,” Thompson said, looking for a student to finish her sentence.
“Discrimination,” a preschooler said.
The preschoolers then sang a song for their audience, which corresponded with the talk they had just given.
“Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Native leader,” they sang. “She worked with the ANS; she worked with the ANS; she worked with the ANS; she worked for positive changes. Elizabeth Peratrovich was a Native leader, she worked with the ANB, she worked with the ANB, she worked with the ANB, she worked to pass a bill.”
Varnell’s students were up next with a readers’ theater. Varnell said her students celebrate Elizabeth Peratrovich Day every day — it’s not just a one-day celebration.
“We talk about her values; we talk about her contributions she’s made to our community; we talk about the contributions that she makes to the future of our community, and how we are able to be together because of her accomplishments and her dedication to us,” Varnell explained.
“Hey guys,” a student began, “who is this Elizabeth Peratrovich lady Miss T. keeps telling us about?”
“Miss T. said Elizabeth Peratrovich is some kind of superhero, or something like that,” another student chimed in.
“Wait a minute,” the first-graders said in unison. “You guys don’t know who Elizabeth Peratrovich was?”
But these students did know who she was. They explained to the Pioneer Home residents, Pioneer Home preschoolers and guests in the room, that Peratrovich helped make “huge changes that still help people today,” and she stood up for people, so everyone would be treated fairly.
“Now we can all be friends, and be together. Thank you, Elizabeth Peratrovich!” they all said together, finishing their readers’ theater.
Varnell’s students went on to sing a song about Peratrovich. Peratrovich was a hero, a brave woman and a Native leader — and according to the first-graders, she “helped to change unfair laws,” and “worked with others for equal rights.”
They ended their presentation by joining hands and raising them above their heads, while singing “You Are My Sunshine.”
All of the students took their seats to hear Gloria Burns, the granddaughter of Delores Churchill and the daughter of Holly Churchill, sing next. Burns said it was inspiring to see both groups of the young students commemorate Peratrovich.
“One of the amazing things about Elizabeth Peratrovich is, you know, she had an education and a way about her that allowed her to do great things,” Burns said. “All of these young people are engaged in their education journey. She also came from a really strong culture and a traditional background that allowed her to have that strength when things weren’t going well, to know that she could pull on something else.”
Fawn Mountain and the Pioneer Home School weren’t the only schools celebrating Elizabeth Peratrovich Day. Ketchikan Charter School had an assembly last week during which they watched Native dancers perform, as did Point Higgins Elementary School.
Ketchikan High School also had an assembly to celebrate the day, as did Houghtaling Elementary School and the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences.
TSAS watched the New Path Dancers perform. They also sang songs and showed off their art projects at their assembly on Friday afternoon.
Revilla Blended School also celebrated the day by watching the Elizabeth Peratrovich movie.
Schoenbar Middle School commemorated Elizabeth Peratrovich by creating poetry, paper commemorative coins and posters. According to Robin Harford, an English teacher at the school, it was “satisfying watching the students make something that would express what they felt as honoring and thankful.”