Lady Liberty Live event at Hartselle Intermediate

Charley Gaines

Hartselle Enquirer

Fifth graders at Hartselle’s Intermediate School came together as young Americans to learn about important aspects of this country and their individual responsibilities to it Sept. 2 in the school’s gymnasium.

The Liberty Learning Foundation goes on the road each year with their Lady Liberty Live show. Their goal is to teach students primarily around Alabama about government in a way that will make an impact in their lives. The show is put on by The Liberty Learning Foundation, which started in 2010.

“This is our third school season out on the road where we actually provide an entire resource kit to the classrooms,” said Tawanna Vickers, the program director for the Next Great Americans Tour. She said she keeps the tour running and supports the team on the road.

“It’s a civic education,” Vickers explained. “It’s character building, financial, literacy and career development education.” The program director said they provided the 5th grade teachers at the Intermediate school with a resource kit they will incorporate in their lessons over a 10-week period. The Lady Liberty Live show on Friday was a tool to spark the students’ interest, and then they apply the outlined principles to their lives in a way that truly makes an impact on them.

The current Libby Liberty is from the Birmingham area and started her journey with the team about a year and a half ago.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into in a good way,” said the 34-year-old woman as she stood in her green paint and Statue of Liberty costume after the show. “I thought painting myself green for each show would be awful, and then I came to a kickoff in the Huntsville area. There were hundreds of kids in a big auditorium singing this song together and I lost it.”

Libby interacts with the students at schools several times a week and tries to connect with them to jump start their interest in civics, financial literacy, career readiness and how all of this can be applied to developing their character.

Libby’s eyes lit up as she talked about that first kickoff and how it really sparked a passion in her to get the word out to the kids and reel in their interest.

“It was so special to see what we were really teaching them and to see them respond to it,” she said.

The Hartselle Intermediate School 5th graders were on their game when Libby Liberty came to see them. Each student was full of energy and excitement as they waved American flags while singing the songs they learned for the program. They wore paper “crowns” on their heads to even look like Libby and connect with the State and what it stands for on a different, more tangible level. The kids repeated the lyrics on the screen as they basically screamed, “Only YOU can keep the “U” in USA.”

“The Statue of Liberty is the focal point of our program – what she stands for,” Vickers said. She said the organization got off the ground when its founder, Patti Yancey, got a hold of some of the material that’s inside the Statue of Liberty on Staton Island in New York. The  material she acquired is part of the heart of the statue that was put in their by the French when they brought it to America and then when it was refurbished in the 1980’s. The material is made into a statue that is awarded to  the person each class at the school votes as the “hero” in their community who most deserves the honor. That statue is awarded to those individuals after the 10-week course is completed.

“The founder that purchased the material wanted to do something to give back to the kids,” Vickers said. “It went from that one little statue to this great program. It’s just become a mission.”

A mission it has. It’s spread all across Alabama teaching and touching kids in a way other lessons usually can’t.

“We kicked it off with a nationwide tour, and went across several states. Then we wrapped back around, talked to teachers, brought it back to the table to enhance the program and it became a true curriculum. It a resource that the teachers can actually use,” said Vickers.

“I wasn’t familiar with the program until I came here,” said Intermediate School Principal  Gaylon Parker. While the kick-off events are meant to spark the students’ interest, the final event is meant to show kids that they are part of a community that serves. “The kids write essays and they vote, and it’s a pretty awesome celebration because they recognize people that overcome obstacles – firemen, policemen, servicemen.”

The whole program is made up of a lot of moving parts, including businesses, organizations and individuals who donate necessities to the Liberty Learning Foundation to help celebrate children’s growth as they think about their service as citizens in the U.S. Morgan County has five different businesses and organizations that help keep Libby Liberty moving through the area, but Vickers said almost every county in Alabama has one of those “community alliances” because “it takes a village to raise a child.”

“They remember by how we interact with them,” said Libby. “In this short amount of time during out program, we can empower these kids to realize that it was Thomas Edison sitting in a little desk by himself that was inspired to do something that made a difference that went down through the generations after him.”

The 5th graders at the Intermediate School have started their lessons and are currently learning about their character, finances and civics after waving flags and singing at the top of their lungs at the kick-off. In ten weeks, on Nov. 9, they will go that extra step in the learning process to see a real life hero that will hopefully tug at their hearts in some form of fashion.

“Standing ovations from these kids is so special and shows how precious life is,” said Libby Liberty. “It just really is incredibly humbling to see what these kids get to learn. It gets the focus off the children and onto something else, which our country needs so desperately.”

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