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Vt. kids get national attention for reciting famous speech - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. kids get national attention for reciting famous speech

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PUTNEY, Vt. -

Reciting the Gettysburg Address is a rite of passage for students at the Greenwood School.

"Fifty-thousand soldiers died and to say the speech to honor all those dead is really important," Bennett Brieg said.

The boarding school was established in 1978 for boys with learning challenges.

"Learning it was a little bit of a challenge, but actually getting up there, you kind of just talk," said Zachary LaRocca-Stravlalle, a ninth-grader.

Educators say there are many reasons why, year after year, the students memorize and publicly recite the Address.

"One of them is for our students to set a goal and really work toward that goal. Even when it gets boring, even when it gets hard, even when they think they might not be able to achieve success," said Stewart Miller, the head of school.

A coin with Lincoln's face is given to the boys who successfully complete the process. Others, like William Staddon, keep trying until they have it down.

"It is really hard for me to learn and memorize things. So when I memorize this, it will be a very big honor," Staddon said.

An honor that captured the attention of filmmaker Ken Burns. He lives in the area and has judged the speeches in the past. Fourteen schools across the country hold similar events and eventually a national champion is crowded. Burns embedded cameras at the school, following the students on their recitation journey.

"I hope that they get out of this, from the movie, that is it really hard for learning different kids, that learning the address is really hard for people to do," Brieg said.

It may be hard, but these students say it is not impossible.

"I think if people with dyslexia can do it, than anyone else can do it," LaRocca-Stravlalle said.

National finals will be held at the school in April to determine which student was the best. But in some ways, just overcoming the obstacles and being able to get on that stage in the first place means they are all already winners.

The documentary will be shown at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro April 2. It airs nationwide on PBS April 15.

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