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Popular Projects: Frozen Figures Silently ‘Performing’

Last week, the Voice From The Bullpen delved into one of the more “popular with students” school projects, a wax museum which many students still talk about when they see, message or Facebook us. The “us” spoken of is Mrs. Bev Taylor, and myself, teaching partners early in both of our careers.

Last week’s column covered the project’s inception, how the idea originated and some components of the project. As time progressed, we eliminated the oral reports, replacing them with posing as “wax figures.”

Prior to presenting the museum to students, staff, parents, friends and visitors, we rehearsed, just as if students were prepping for a play.

The difference was, the museum students practiced standing/sitting, without moving.

Rehearsals included tips on how breathing, how avoiding eye contact with others (you’d be surprised how many people tried to make our “statues” move, smile, laugh, etc.), and standing so their muscles didn’t tighten up.

Basically, we tried to tell them how to let the music that would be playing, put them in a trance that would allow them to “zone out” those 15 minutes or so.

We scheduled a minimum of 15 minute sessions every half hour and invited guests to visit the museum.

Sometimes those 15 became 17 to 20 before we could get all visitors to leave the museum area, which then allowed us to utter the signal word, “relax,” allowing students to do just that.

We made informational “plaques” with biographical highlights on each character.

The written reports were on display during sessions of students posing and staying still for 15 minutes. They then got 15 minutes to refresh until the next session. Early museum costumes, makeup, and props were crude, but became specialized as time went on, making the figures even more authentic as time went on, in the 20-plus museums with which I was associated.

The museum “lived” at Fletcher during the years Bev and I teamed there, then she went to Persell Middle School, and I went to Jamestown High School. It was reborn a few years after I arrived at Jefferson Middle School (early 1990s). After a couple years there, the museum took on different themes each year. That lasted, for me, until retirement (2008). Themes included, Olympic Champions (which included a visit from actual Olympic Gold Medalists Carol Heiss, 1960 Women’s Figure Skating, and Hayes Alan Jenkins, 1956 Men’s Figure Skating. The two married in 1961). Other themes included, Jefferson school staff, Presidents/First Ladies, entertainers, Black History, dignitaries who visited Chautauqua Institution and a memorial to victims of 9-11. It took to the road a few times, once to an empty Chautauqua Mall store, once to Holy Family School and once to Lutheran Social Services. The October 1984 edition of Early Years Magazine published a piece on our wax museum, its inception and creation.

The wax museum has been presented in other classrooms, in other districts by some great teachers. My former teaching partners, Gina and Ruth, kept the museum going at Jefferson Middle School after my retirement. My friend, Diane, did museums with her fourth graders, and colleagues, at Fletcher Elementary School. Former student Shannon has done museums with classes at her Southwestern school.

A Persell Middle School teacher, a while ago, informed me he was doing a museum with his fifth graders. Unfortunately COVID-19 prevented them from presenting the conventional museum, but didn’t prevent them from donning costumes and Zoom sharing their character with classmates. I was honored they asked me to join the sharing session with them.

A while ago, I received a Facebook message from a teacher from the Baldwinsville Central School District, sharing her experience presenting a museum.

She included an article about a class in the Skaneateles School District whose students also presented a wax museum.

Both heard about our project, and thought it might be worth a try. Those are ones we’ve heard have been presented.

They say imitation’s the greatest form of flattery. Bev, now a South Carolinian, and I, have talked, emailed, and Facebook messaged often, and we’re flattered this project, that so many former participants still talk to us about, has stood the test of time, continuing to be presented in schools today. Thanks to all students who participated, and still remember it so well.

If you ask one, they’ll tell you who they were, what they were known for, and how they felt about the project.

Special thanks to all who thought it was worth keeping alive.

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