On Friday, just in time for President's Day, the students in Ed Inman's social studies classes at Western Hills ran an assembly for their teammates and their sister team, as a new portrait of George Washington was unveiled. Special guests on stage included Mayor Allan Fung and Governor Lincoln Chafee. Also present in the audience were Assistant Superintendent Jeaninne Nota-Masse, Executive Director of Educational Programs Joseph Rotz and School Committee member Jeff Gale.
According to Inman, the project was a student-led project, and the ceremony was student-run.
"They did all of the research during their social studies classes," Inman said.
The portrait, a replica of the original by renowned artist Rembrandt Peale, is a "porthole portrait," originally created in 1823, and is part of a nationwide effort by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, called the George Washington Portrait Program, whose goal is to have a portrait of George Washington hang in every school in the country.
"We are one of the first schools in Cranston to receive our portrait, so we thought we'd have a ceremony to mark the occasion, especially with it happening so close to President's Day," Inman said.
Along with the portrait, Western Hills Middle School will be hanging an American flag that once flew over Mount Vernon, on their flagpole, according to Inman and Principal Anthony Corrente.
Brianna Ferreira sang the "Star Spangled Banner" and Connor Levine led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance to start off the ceremony.
Principal Corrente delivered greetings from the school, sharing with the audience his pride in the hard work and efforts of his eighth graders. He noted that having such a portrait at Western Hills brought him back to his own school days.
"Many moons ago, when the adults in the room were in school, it was customary to have a picture of George Washington hanging on the walls in the schools," he said. "I applaud the students for their hard work and their efforts today and every day."
Mayor Allan Fung brought greetings from the city of Cranston, congratulating Corrente, Inman and the students for their hard work. He noted the importance of learning about history as a means of making decisions in the present.
"Learning about history is an important part of determining where we will go in our country," he said. "And as we come up on President's Day, we have a very important opportunity to honor one of our founding fathers and the opportunity to continue to learn and remember an important piece of our history."
To that end, Abby Souza and Peyton Phillips, two of Inman's eighth graders, took turns reading aloud a comprehensive history of George Washington, spanning his birth in 1732, his two terms as president and discussing his family life, which included raising two of his wife's grandchildren. The account ended with Washington's death in 1799.
Governor Lincoln Chafee took the podium next, sharing with the students his love of history and drawing connections between Washington and Rhode Island.
"Our first president really set the stage for our great country," said Chafee. "One of the most famous portraits of Washington was done by a Rhode Islander, Gilbert Stuart."
Governor Chafee noted that Rhode Island was founded on the basis of supporting religious freedom, and read aloud a famous quotation by George Washington to illustrate his point, "For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."
With that, Zach Pickering and Bella Connors assisted Governor Chafee in unveiling the school's official portrait of George Washington.
For more information about the George Washington Portrait Program or to request a free portrait for your school, visit www.mountvernon.org.