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Posted: March 30, 2017

On Wed., March 29, Skyridge Middle School and Liberty Middle School eighth graders were treated to a performance by Storyteller Sheila Arnold Jones, who took on the persona of Betsy Kastner, a Virginia-born slave who lived before and after the Civil War.

At Skyridge, students were enthralled by Jones’s performance, which quickly blurred the lines between reality and fiction. “Kastner” told of working in the fields, being married, being sold, fleeing her master, having children, losing children, and being reunited with family, over many trying years. Audience members got the sense they were listening to a real slave going through very real, insurmountable ordeals—just like the ones they had, until now, only read about.

After a mesmerizing stretch of storytelling, “Kastner” wondered if her audience had any questions, and more than a dozen did. Students, still captivated by the character, asked things like, “Did you find your son?” (“No”) and “Did you ever see your husband again?” (“No”).

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the assembly came when student Ella Hieronymus stood up and asked, “Can I give you a hug?” The answer was an emphatic yes. At the assembly’s close, the young woman was joined by more than 20 classmates seeking to wrap their arms around “Betsy,” who clearly had made an impact.

Jones has been performing in Camas every year for over a decade after having met Liberty eighth grade Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher Tom Brossia when she worked for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Teacher Institute.

In real life, Jones hails from Hampton, Virginia, and travels the country performing as any of 11 different women from the 1600s to the 1970s, based on actual individuals and historical accounts. Her Betsy Kastner character is founded on Jones’s actual ancestor of the same name.

This program is made possible by the continued efforts of Brossia, along with Skyridge eighth grade Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher Jeanette Romano, and the parent-teacher organizations of both schools.