“People will know Mrs. Roosevelt from our work”

Mike Cerniglia and his students at Lakeland-Copper Beech Middle School in Yorktown Heights are interested social and environmental issues. They spent much of this school year studying the life and work of women who made a difference including aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, artist Faith Ringgold, and first lady and human rights activist Eleanor Roosevelt.


The life skills special education class and the
school’s garden club spent a lot of time on ER because “her dedication to making positive changes inspired the kids,” Cerniglia said.

“This project shows what’s possible when students of all abilities learn from and with each other. It also shows that with resources, students can learn in new and innovative ways,” he added.

Students honed their research and writing skills, learned about film making and building websites while also stretching their creative muscles. The end product was a website featuring student work and demonstrations of what they learned. It includes:

  • A short film showing how students built a model of ER’s Hyde Park home. Cerniglia says students were so excited that many worked on it during lunch as well as class time.
  • Video featuring students’ interpretive (Mike calls them “artsy and unique”) readings of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • A video timeline and film highlights from Mrs. Roosevelt’s life.
  • 12 portraits like the one shown above. “Some paintings were completed by one student,” Cerniglia said, “others were made by groups over several days. Each one is unique.”

The website also includes games and links for those who want to learn more about ER. Or, as the students said, “It has all the information you need,” and “People will know all about Mrs. Roosevelt from our work.”

In March, Mike’s class and members of the Lakeland Copper Beech Garden club celebrated the life of Eleanor Roosevelt and Women’s History month by hosting a video conference with schools from Georgia and Pennsylvania in addition to Ossining and North Colonie, NY.

Besides showcasing their own work the students invited two special guests — Shirley Jackson and Susanne Norris. Ms. Jackson knew Eleanor Roosevelt as a girl growing up near Val-Kill. She is the author of a picture book about the former first lady, Hot Dogs for the Queen.

Ms. Norris is the education specialist at the National Parks Service’s Roosevelt-Vanderbilt sites and has developed many related activities and programs including “Eleanor Roosevelt: An American Hero.”

To close out the unit, Mike obtained a Bus on Us grant so students could visit Val-Kill.

Lean more: THV’s summer institute features an all-day field experience related to Mrs. Roosevelt’s work on behalf of youth and human rights. It includes a tour of her home and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. Registration is required for the entire program, July 24-26, or the field experience, July 25.

The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site is hosted a series of conversations about ER on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer and fall.

I liked Mrs. Roosevelt’s quote,
‘Do something everyday that scares you.’ I haven’t tried using this quote yet, but I have read some of Eleanor’s books and I liked them.

In class I have written about her and made a painting of her too. I liked painting her face. If I could go and visit the stone cottage . . . I would take pictures and movies and notes.

It would be important for me to go up there so I could learn more about her life.

I like that Eleanor Roosevelt stood up for herself and others.” – Tori Bushell

From a short essay, “Eleanor Roosevelt’s Stone Cottage,” written before the students visited Val-Kill.