Portraying the greats

Fourth-graders at West Side Elementary set up a wax museum of notable people

Fourth-graders (from left) Spencer Brink, Aiden Bly and Alexia Oaxaca share information to fellow students, staff members and other visitors as they portray Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth, respectively, during a Wax Museum type exhibition on Friday at West Side Elementary School.


Two classrooms at West Side Elementary School were recently taken over by famous trailblazers, legends, innovators and other impactful people, creating an entertaining and educational experience for many at the “Wax Museum.”

Walking through the classrooms, people could find and learn about Amelia Earhart, Florence Griffith Joyner, Bruce Lee, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Pocahontas, Squanto, Ulysses S. Grant, Jackie Robinson, Dr. Seuss, Queen Elizabeth and many other historical individuals.

“I picked Steve Jobs because I really like to play video games and all that,” fourth-grader Steven Kline said. “I also like to play outside. He invented the computer, the iPhone and the MP3 player, so he made it so we can listen to music and look up stuff on Google and all that.”

Like all of the fourth-grade students in either Bridgette Swanson’s or Tara Brouwer’s class, Kline had to select a book, read it and then pull out valuable information to share with others.

“I wrote this (script),” Kline said. “It’s the stuff that he did. The hardest part was probably just getting all the props and finding the book. There were so many of those ‘Who Was?’ books. I looked for awhile, then I found it. I learned that he died from cancer.”

Hawo Ahmed chose to portray Rosa Parks.

“I thought that she was interesting and nobody had picked her, so I picked her,” Ahmed said. “She refused to give up her seat. There was like a bus station and the whites stayed in front and she refused to sit in the back. She sat in front, so she got arrested. The bus driver told her three times to get up and go to the back. But she refused.”

Ahmed said she enjoyed the project.

“The hardest part was just writing it down, getting some things wrong and then getting it correct again,” she said.

Swanson said every fourth-grade class does a Wax Museum project every year.

“We have eight sections of fourth-graders, so two go at a time,” she said. “We’re all split into different months. The kids love it. They like dressing up and getting into character. It’s fun.”

The effort is also aligned with state standards.

“It’s helping them practice the speaking, viewing and listening standard for the Minnesota State Standards,” Swanson said. “I think it helps them with confidence and self-esteem because they have to practice speaking in front of others.”

The teachers said each student was responsible for choosing their individual, along with finding an age-appropriate biography or autobiography on the person.

“We prefer that they choose someone in history, however, they can pick somebody who made an impact on this world, — so somebody today or someone in history,” Brouwer said. “We kind of leave it open for the kiddos.”

Young and popular musician, Taylor Swift, along with gymnastics superstar Simone Biles and fashion designers and former child actresses Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen were among the living Wax Museum representatives.

“Our library has a great selection of the ‘Who Was?’ books,” Swanson said. “They’re at grade-level books. They have to read the book and that’s where they pull all their information from to become their person for the Wax Museum.”

Swanson added that the school library continues to get new “Who Was?” series books in as more are written.

“That’s why you’ll see new characters,” she said. “The students aren’t limited to what is in our library, either. They can choose as long as they find an autobiography or biography at their reading level.”

Brouwer said that Genghis Khan, the founder and first Great Khan of the Mongol Empire who established the largest land empire in history, was a rather new book in the series.

“The ‘Who Was?’ books are a series that the kids really latch onto and they love,” Brouwer said. “For this project, the students have to pick a book that’s at their lexile level, so they’re able to comprehend and understand it. It really holds them accountable when they’re picking books.”

Brouwer said the Wax Museum is one of four independent reading projects for fourth-graders each year.

“They get the directions, rules and expectations — we go over and cover them — and then they have to do those independently at home,” she said.

Brouwer added that more technology is starting to be incorporated into the Wax Museum project.

“We have a green screen and they get to go and pick out a background and things like that,” Brouwer said. “It’s kind of like a practice round for them. So we have videos of them against the green screen. We’ll show the videos to them and we’ll put it up for parents who couldn’t be here for this. They’re only 9 and 10 years old, but they accomplish a lot. It’s great.”

Fourth-grader Spencer Brink was dressed up as an astronaut, having chosen Neil Armstrong for the project.

“He was really famous and I wanted to be him,” Brink said. “I got my outfit from Amazon.”

Brink said that overall, he was pleased with his project.

“People were interested in it,” he said. “The memorizing part was a little bit hard. I memorized quite a bit of (my script).”

Visitors to the Wax Museum also found a very well-dressed John F. Kennedy, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ben Franklin and King Tut.

“You get a lot of families — parents, grandpas and grandmas, aunts and uncles — in here,” Brouwer said. “We had a little boy whose uncle came in and stood as a soldier. It was awesome. It’s so nice to have the support.”

Overall, Brouwer said she was impressed with this year’s effort.

“It went so well this year,” she said. “At first, the kids are nervous about it and then they’re like, ‘Mrs. Brouwer, that wasn’t so bad.’ And I’ll say, ‘I know.’ But I’ve never had a group that was so prepared, and they were so excited about it this year.”