Fifth graders bring historical figures to life

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With bus seat and all, Ava Lindner portrayed civil rights activist Rosa Parks during the “wax museum” event presented by the MFL MarMac fifth graders last week. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

The fifth graders had to stand still for as many as 10 minutes at a time. Pictured here are Harriet Tubman (Isabelle Kirby), Milton Hershey (Rylee Kugel) and Pocahontas (Avery Lamborn).

Each fifth grader also wrote a research paper, highlighting their historical figure’s early life, leadership abilities, accomplishments and legacy. These papers were displayed before each of the students in the wax museum, allowing attendees to read more about the individual as they passed by. Shown with his research paper is Cameron Duffield, who portrayed Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Some of the “wax figures” were more well-known, such as Egyptian queen Cleopatra (Karish Kluth), while others, like Native American dancer Maria Tallchief (Ava Kishman), allowed attendees to learn about someone new.

In addition to looking like their historical figures, students also had to come up with poses to reflect the individual's mannerisms. Keith Anderson wrestled with a snake to best interpret his historical figure, Steve Irwin, the “Crocodile Hunter.”

Characters spanned across different centuries, continents and backgrounds. Shown here are Queen Elizabeth (Haleigh Nickolai), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Marie Nierling) and Annie Oakley (Evelyn Ruff).

Jonah Wille, representing Henry Ford, posed with his own Model T.

Sporting a largely homemade costume, Dustin Larson took on the role of America’s first president, George Washington.

With his lantern and tricorn hat, Parker Kuehl was recognizable as Paul Revere.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Henry Ford. Amelia Earhart. Benjamin Franklin. Rosa Parks. These well-known historical figures were among those brought to life by MFL MarMac fifth graders last week, during a special “wax museum” event.

Scattered around the school’s gym, each student portrayed a different character—ranging from politicians and entertainers to inventors and athletes—mimicking their looks and mannerisms. For minutes at a time, they stood still, like wax figures, as attendees traveled around the gym viewing them. The students then came to life, sharing information and answering questions about their historical figure.

The event, said teacher Shauna Lange, is part of an effort at the upper elementary level to expand students’ knowledge of historical people, events and places. It started in fourth grade, when many students were drawn to and enjoyed the series of “Who Was” biographical books.

“In fifth grade, we continue reading these books and other books related to history,” she said. Pulled from a similar idea Lange had seen at Valley, the wax museum biographical project is a culmination of that.

Lange said bringing the project to fruition took several months. First, students had to select a historical figure. 

“They got to pick someone they were interested in,” Lange said, “and learned a lot about their characters.”

Some, like Dustin Larson, gravitated toward an individual they’d read about. In his case, it was the nation’s first president, George Washington.

“I already knew a lot about him,” Larson said, “but this helped me learn even more.”

Others chose figures who shared their own interests. For example, Brock Hackett went with frontiersman Daniel Boone.

“I like the outdoors,” he said, “and I wanted to know more about him.”

It was personal for Quinn McGeough, who portrayed Lou Gehrig because his grandmother died of ALS, the same disease that claimed the life of the professional baseball player.

Maria Stavroplus selected Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. Of the wax figures on display last week, Blackwell was, to many, one of the lesser known.

“I didn’t know anything about her,” Stavroplus admitted, “but I wanted to be someone nobody knew. I thought it would be more interesting, teaching people about her.”

The students spent a month researching their characters, utilizing both books and online resources.

“You had to go to trusted sites,” McGeough noted.

From there, students wrote a research paper, highlighting the historical figure’s early life, leadership abilities, accomplishments and legacy. It all had to fit on one typed page, which, for some, was difficult, said Cade Humble, who portrayed current president Donald Trump.

“For most of these students, it was their first experience writing a report with an introduction, body and conclusion,” Lange said.

These papers were displayed before each of the students in the wax museum, allowing attendees to read more about the individual as they passed by.

“It was fun knowing someone else was going to read your report,” shared Abigail Troester, whose historical figure was former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Next, students developed their costumes. Many were homemade and others a hodgepodge of Goodwill finds or old Halloween costumes. If a student didn’t have an item they were looking for, their classmates were often there to help them out.

But it wasn’t just about looking like their historical figures. The fifth graders also had to act like them.

“We had to find our poses,” explained Troester.

Then, they had to hold those poses.

“It was hard standing still for 10 minutes,” Humble remarked. 

It was even harder, said Stavroplus, when people tried to make them laugh, talk to them or draw them out of character.

The students enjoyed it, though.

“It was more of a fun way to learn history,” Stavroplus said.

“It got more into detail,” McGeough added.

Humble appreciated that, portraying Donald Trump, he could imagine what it would be like to be president. 

“A lot of people asked when I’m going to build the wall,” he joked.

Lange said she was proud of her students’ efforts and happy they found the project so engaging.

“That’s been my goal the whole time, to teach social studies in a way I would have enjoyed it,” she said, “to have them learn to love a subject that can be more difficult to love.”

She said the wax museum has, so far, yielded rave reviews, and she’s appreciative of the school staff, students and community members who came out to support it.

Lange’s students unanimously agreed it’s a project that should continue at MFL MarMac next year.

“I think I have to do it again,” Lange commented. “As the fourth graders walked out, they were already picking their person for next year.”

To see more of the historical figures portrayed by the fifth graders, check out the photos and videos on the North Iowa Times Facebook page.

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