Just a few days before Jackie Robinson Day, fifth grade students from P.S. 375, the Jackie Robinson School in Crown Heights, were treated to an afternoon of history through technology as documentarian Ken Burns, Jackie’s daughter Sharon Robinson, and Borough President Eric Adams visited the school.
During the event, held on Monday, April 11, Burns discussed his latest documentary, “Jackie Robinson,” while the youngsters were introduced to special technology courtesy of Google and PBS.
The Google Expedition allowed students to put on goggles with smartphones inside that took them on a virtual reality field trip which explored Ebbets Field, the long-gone former stadium of the Brooklyn Dodgers which once sat right there, as well as through Robinson’s life. It was entitled “Life is not a Spectator Sport: The Jackie Robinson Story.”
Burns, who is famous for his extensive baseball documentaries, was thrilled to dedicate one to Robinson. “One of the things that is so unique and important about the film is that we get to tell the true and accurate story of Jackie and his life, which was very dramatic,” he said.
Burns said he wanted to create an authentic portrayal of the Hall of Famer who broke the MLB color barrier in 1946.
“We are telling this multi-generation story of an African American family and there are lots of myths that people have, like Pee Wee Reese putting his arm around him in a sign of solidarity which didn’t happened,” the filmmaker revealed. “Jackie’s path is much more difficult and interesting, and I think when we sugar-coat it, we lose it.”
Robinson explained that she and her mother Rachel were thrilled with the final product. “He’s an amazing documentarian that makes great films,” she said. “When my mother and I saw the one he did on my father, we were speechless initially, and then we just embraced him because he did such a magnificent job.”
After guests spoke, the children were able to put on the goggles as they explored a virtual 360 view of the Hall of Fame and Ebbets Field, as well as photos of Robinson and their current surroundings.
“To see their reactions was great,” said Burns. “I was sitting with the kids and they were saying, ‘Oh my God. This is so cool. I can’t believe this is happening.’ I was saying the same thing. It’s great.”
Faculty of the school were equally impressed.
“For our students, it gives them an opportunity to experience learning. That is part of our instructional focus, for our students to be able to experience what it is that they learn,” said Principal Schwanna Ellma. “This gave them that opportunity. It’s bringing it to life and it’s very good for our visual learners.”
The students were also thrilled.
“I loved them,” said student John Contreras of the exciting tech. “To be honest, it made me think of a simulator. I wish I could keep them.”
“It was interesting and I got to learn new things about Jackie Robinson and his life,” added Kayla K. “It made me feel like I was there.”