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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Bella Vista third graders bring famous figures to life in annual wax museum

Feb 29, 2024 01:13PM ● By Julie SlamaImagine walking into a school multipurpose room just to have famous people come to life. That’s what happened recently at Bella Vista Elementary during the third-grade students’ wax museum.

On the left, Bella Vista’s third-graders share with other students and parents about famous people they portray in their class wax museum. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Michael Jordan in a Chicago Bulls hat held a basketball. Jane Goodall cuddled a stuffed animal. Anne Frank, with her yellow Jewish star, clutched her red plaid diary and Neil Armstrong, in his astronaut suit, grabbed his helmet. 

Albert Einstein’s bushy gray eyebrows didn’t move. Rosa Parks’ round black brimless hat stayed securely on her hair, which was neatly tied back in a bun. Others, such as Harriet Tubman, J.K. Rowling and even Taylor Swift stood motionless in the school gym, waiting for their paper buttons to be pushed. When pressed, the famous people sprung to life, sharing their stories.

It was Bella Vista’s third-grade wax museum, where families and classmates could learn a slice of history from 33 famous people.

Stan Lee, portrayed by Phoenix Banks, conceived the Fantastic Four with Jack Kirby. Visitors learned that the comic book writer, editor, publisher and producer went on to create the Marvel characters.

“It would be fun, but a lot of work to create superheroes, but that’s what I want to do,” said Phoenix, adding that Black Panther is his favorite.

Walt Disney was born in Chicago, but as a youngster moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri.

“He loved the farm and the animals there. Some of his characters came from his farm days,” said Beckham Luthi. “I loved learning about Disney. He said, ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible’ and I learned he never gave up on his dreams. That’s something I’ll remember. I want to be a pizza maker.”

Amelia Earhart built a roller coaster from the second story of her grandparents’ house. She’d sled down the steep hill in front of the home, dodging horse-drawn carriages. She went on to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and broke a lot of records, said Evelyn Pacecly.

“I liked how she inspired girls in multiple ways,” Evelyn said. “She was brave. I want to be a pilot like her.”

Those thoughts make their teacher, Wendie Nielson, smile.

“They were so excited to get to do it,” she said. “They see it the year before and know it’s coming up. The fourth graders come through and talk about who they got to be.”

The wax museum project began shortly before the holiday break when students decided which famous person to research. Many of the students read student biographies from Golden Books or one from the series, “Who Is?”

“They learned how to research (both on the internet and in books) and how to summarize. They practice sequencing, writing and editing before typing their report. They learn public speaking and memorizing so that they could share what they learned,” said Nielson about the skills that tie into the third-grade core curriculum.

Students also create a timeline and draw a portrait of their famous person, which with their typed paper, is mounted on poster board. After six weeks, the students could dress as their famous people for the wax museum.

“This is a good way to learn the skills, but also, they learn about people that they didn’t know about. Maybe it will inspire them to read more biographies and learn about a variety of people. Maybe they’ll be inspired by them,” Nielson said.

She said by doing this project, some students learned about themselves.

“A lot of them were afraid to talk in public so we practiced and shared our reports with each other beforehand in class,” she said, adding that a few of her students who just moved to the United States, practiced their English skills to share about themselves. “Some, like Kobe Bryant over there, dream of playing basketball for a career and maybe some others will discover a profession they’re interested in.”

Third-grader Bo Brady shared about Alexander Hamilton, who served the country in the military, as a lawyer, a statesman and author, helped to establish the Bank of New York and the First Bank of the United States. Bo picked the famous American because he learned “I’m related to him.”

Archer Atkin shared about the 44th U.S. president, Barack Obama.

“He grew up with his grandparents in Hawaii; his dad gave him his first basketball and (his stepfather) taught him to box so he could stand up to other kids,” he said. “He signed many landmark decisions while in office. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Archer learned some things about Obama he didn’t know.

“I learned how he believes that everybody should have equal rights,” he said. “And I liked that I was born the same year that he got his dog, Sunny.” λ