Fourth and fifth grade members of Glen Head Elementary’s Dignity For All club have spent the last few weeks of the school year preparing for their performance of “The Time Machine,” an original play that was penned by Olivia Bellocco, the club’s co-president. The club held three showings of the play for their fellow students and family members.
“The Time Machine” details a young girl’s travels through time after she discovers a key to the device left to her by Dr. Ronald Mallett, an African-American physicist best known for his scientific position on the possibility of time travel. On her journey she meets a handful of historic black figures whose contributions changed the course of American history.
“I wanted to teach [the audience] about who helped the world become a better place,” Olivia said.
After talking with her fellow club members about what the group would do for its Black History Month presentation, Olivia took the initiative to write her own script. Her advisor Janet Goldberg was more than impressed.
“It was terrific because it motivated everyone to get involved,” Goldberg said. “Once everybody saw it they couldn’t wait; in fact, we had to write more roles into it because more people wanted to be in it.”
Goldberg worked with Olivia and Jaidyn Martin, also a fifth-grade student, to research for the roles. “They made a list of African-Americans they felt the kids should know about and were instrumental in changing the civil rights of people throughout different stages of history,” she said.
One piece of the research involved African-American “firsts.” They included parts for Ella Fitzgerald, the first African-American woman to win a Grammy; Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball; and Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States.
Fifth graders fulfilled the acting roles, and fourth graders were a part of the crew. Goldberg said the students gave up lunch and recess periods to pull the show together, and even came in early before school to rehearse. “It was all done on their own time,” she said.
Since “The Time Machine” opened, Olivia has received multiple compliments, and hopes to write more plays for future Dignity For All events. “I feel really proud and happy because it’s one thing to put on a play but if you enjoy doing it it’s really exciting,” she said.
Olivia added that she hopes audiences will realize and honor the contributions of the historic black figures portrayed in her play, so they can be inspired to change the world too.
Goldberg agreed. “One of the things we noticed while researching was that most schools that really spend time on Black History Month have a high proportion of black students, and we don’t, so I felt it was important for us to talk about those changes throughout history because of [African-Americans], and really enlighten the kids,” she said.