This blog post was written collaboratively by thirty-four 10th Grade Honors English students at Tuscarora High School in Frederick, Maryland, with edits by their teacher, Mr. Slaby. King Peggy visited Tuscarora High School on September 26, 2013.
For several weeks, our English class of energetic sophomores had been reading King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and How She Changed An African Village, co-written by Peggielene “Nana” Bartels and Eleanor Herman. Initially, some of us were excited to read it, but others would have preferred something else. However, when our teacher, Mr. Slaby, told us King Peggy was coming to visit our school, we were ecstatic. Most of us never thought we would meet a female king, and we started seeing the reading of her book differently. King Peggy wasn’t just a book about a woman making the world a better place; she was someone whom we could meet and learn about firsthand. With our newfound excitement, we finished the book, had some lively discussions, and prepared for her visit, wanting to make her time with our Tuscarora Titan community a memorable one. The class and the entire school had a lot of work to do, so we set to work.
To give King Peggy a warm welcome to Tuscarora High our whole class made her six banners which we hung in the green room of our drama department, close to the stage. Each banner consisted of a letter to her from each student, a comment about how her book affected him/her, a theme topic taken from the book along with a quote, and a decoration that had to do with King Peggy’s story. Also, to decorate the green room some of us drew pictures on the white board and wrote a welcome message on it, too. Here are a few of the banners we hung on the walls:
Also, on Main Street, the School’s central meeting space, Mr. Dan Neuland, our Art Department Chairperson, made some banners of his own inspired by the One Maryland One Book bookmarks supplied by the Maryland Humanities Council.
When King Peggy arrived at Tuscarora, over a dozen people, consisting of Principal Schlappal, Mr. Slaby, students, and members of the Titan Leading Ladies Club, greeted her. After shaking hands and smiling warmly with everyone, Mr. Slaby led Nana into the green room. We went into the auditorium to join over 400 of our classmates and teachers. THS percussion students drummed a tribal beat stage right, and we could hear some students who hadn’t yet read the book questioning, “Who’s King Peggy? What’s her story” Many of us who had read it wondered what she would be like in person. Would she come across the same as in her book? Would she sound strong and loving? Would she be funny?
Once everyone was inside the auditorium, the lights dimmed, and the drummers exited the stage. Silence fell on the crowd, as a stage light shone on Principal Schlappal standing where the drummers had been. As she welcomed Nana, the lights at stage left went up, illuminating the yellow armchair. Whatever silence there had been quickly changed to wild applause and cheers. We were about to meet a king!
From behind the fichus trees stage left, Nana emerged, walking to the yellow arm chair and sitting down in it.
“Good morning!” she said.
“Good morning!” echoed the audience. We were amazed that we were sitting in front of an African king! In a commanding yet gentle tone, King Peggy told us her story of how she became the king of Otuam, looking us in the eyes as though she were speaking directly to each of us. We sat on the edge of our seats. Many of us who had already read her book realized that her story felt more influential and heartfelt in person.
When she finished talking about the beginning of her journey, we all turned our heads to a screen at center stage to watch a slide show with pictures of her village. Now we could see all the changes that Peggy has brought to her village, the ones many of us had read about! In seeing these images, we appreciated both the little things we have, and the work she has done for her people such as bringing clean water to her village and working to establish a school. She also gave the girls among us more confidence in ourselves, saying that we don’t have to be a man to do great things.
While her presentation kept us all engaged, Nana then took our questions. Dozens of students lined up behind microphones to ask her everything from how she continues to help empower women in Otuam and surrounding villages to what happened to her 1992 Honda Accord. She gave excellent, heartfelt answers to every single one of the questions the students asked. Nana even made a point of sharing the news that Queen Latifah would be portraying her in an upcoming movie!
After the performance was over, and after Nana had signed some books to be given away later in the day, Mr. Slaby called our English class up to the stage. We were shocked! We approached Nana, and she had a big smile for us. We each shook her hand, and she was open to answering our many questions and taking photos with us, including this one in front of Mr. Neuland’s window display:
We walked away with a tremendous understanding of the book and a better appreciation for the things we take for granted living here in the United States. Our THS Book Club also just held a donation drive for Otuam, and more classes are now engaged in her book and in thinking of ways that they, too, can make a difference. While King Peggy is certainly an inspirational book, Nana herself is an overall amazingly generous, powerful, and gracious person. We thank the Maryland Humanities Council, Principal Schlappal, Tuscarora High School faculty and staff, and most importantly King Peggy herself for helping make our reading of King Peggy and our meeting of this real-life hero an experience we’ll never forget!
Photo credit: Dana Miletic, THS English Department Co-Chair.