Look at what these Juneau fifth graders can do


A hall of statues including Rosa Parks (Kaitlyn Jansen), Martin Luther King (Toby Collins), Theodore Roosevelt (Steven Chaput) and George Washington (Roni Sumpter) .

A hall of statues including Rosa Parks (Kaitlyn Jansen), Martin Luther King (Toby Collins), Theodore Roosevelt (Steven Chaput) and George Washington (Roni Sumpter) . (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Sixty historical world figures recently visited Auke Bay Elementary School to tell their stories. From Cleopatra to Barack Obama, they were brought to life by fifth grade students, in what’s called the Auke Bay Wax Museum. The favorite activity has been going for about a decade.

Press an imaginary button on a shoulder and a motionless figure comes to life.

“Hi, I’m Jackie Robinson, I was the first black major league baseball player…”

Auke Bay fifth grade students spend nearly a month researching the person of their choice who has made a positive impact on the world. They read books, surf the Internet, put together a bibliography, and write a script about their character. They must come up with a costume and other props, and deliver their story during the annual living museum.

Teacher JoAnn Jones says her students get passionate about their characters.

“They learn how to research, the writing aspect is huge and they really get to know somebody” beyond their accomplishments, Jones says.

Take Neil Armstrong, for example; the first person on the moon.

“I played the Baritone horn. I went to Gates Elementary School, but even before that I became interested in planes at the age of two,” says 11-year Ryan Marx, who plays Armstrong.

Ryan Marx has always wondered what it's like on the moon. At age 11, playing Neil Armstrong has been as close as he's gotten to finding out. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Ryan Marx has always wondered what it’s like on the moon. At age 11, playing Neil Armstrong has been as close as he’s gotten to finding out. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The famous astronaut is credited for the phrase: “… one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” But from his research, Ryan especially liked this line:

“After I landed on the moon, it suddenly struck me that the tiny pea, tiny and blue, was the earth. I stuck out my thumb and closed one eye and my thumb blotted out the earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”

Some of the students had a personal relationship with their character. Ten-year-old Emma Douglas played Susanna Hutchinson, who in 1643 survived an Indian attack in the area that is now the New York Bronx. Hutchinson was taken captive, raised by the Indians, then traded to the English.

“She’s my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandma,” Douglas says.

Most of the students have memorized their story and though there may be a few stumbles, they learn to keep their cool. Teacher Jones says the activity is accessible to all students.

“For some kids that have struggled in school, they do this,” Jones says. “I had a student once that didn’t have a lot of language and her speech therapist recorded her word by word and put it on a tape and it just brought tears to your eyes. It does me thinking right now about her. And you just go,‘Oh my gosh, look what she’s able to do.’”

Kamron Falls,11, chose to become Abraham Lincoln because he was a "really cool person." (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Kamron Falls,11, chose to become Abraham Lincoln because he was a “really cool person.” (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Kamron Falls was Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. In a top hat and black beard, he easily delivered Lincoln’s story. His dad, John Falls, said Kamron worked on the project for at least three weeks. He was especially proud of his son’s memorization. Falls calls the wax museum activity “outstanding. I think it’s a good thing for kids. They learn an awful lot and they take time.”

Kamron says he chose President Lincoln because “He freed the slaves.” He recalls one of Lincoln’s most famous quotes:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside, but if we falter and lose or freedom it will be because we have destroyed ourselves.”

Once a year, the Auke Bay Elementary School hallways become a living museum worth visiting. As teacher Jones puts it:

“You just can’t believe they are only fifth graders that have done this.”

 

 

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