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The City Journals

St. John fifth-grade students’ heroes come alive

May 29, 2022 01:01PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It may not ever happen again. Two women who made a stand for females standing near each other at the same place and the same time.

But that’s what happened as First Lady Abigail Adams stood near aviator Amelia Earhart one spring day at St. John the Baptist Elementary.

Actually, it was two fifth-graders, Ashlyn Trost and Ansley Sewall, portraying the heroines as part of the school’s wax museum that featured Jim Henson, Katie Ledecky, John Deere, Julia Grant, Ulysses S. Grant, Kamala Harris, John Glenn, Jonas Salk, Stan Lee and Jill Biden among the 100 or so famous folk who filled the multi-purpose room.

Ashlyn said she chose Abigail Adams as her famous American.

“I wanted to choose a person who felt strongly about women’s rights and education,” she said. “She was educated herself and educated her daughters at home at a time when school wasn’t an option for girls. It also was a time when women didn’t have jobs, but she ran the family farm for years while her husband was away and raised the family. And she didn’t lose sight of women. She wrote to her husband when he was away to remember the ladies more than their ancestors did.”

Nearby, Ansley portrayed Amelia Earhart.

“I love mysteries, so I wanted to research and learn more about her life since it ended in a mystery when she disappeared in her around-the-world flight,” she said. “Amelia was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and Pacific. She wanted to do things that were typically only for men, so she was pushing boundaries back then. She had a lot of courage and wrote a poem entitled that. She was pretty cool.”

Many students brought in costumes from hoop skirts to an astronaut’s helmet. Others created costumes that were transformed from their grandparents’ closets or wore costumes from students in previous years.

Principal Nikki Ward said the “wax museum costumes are fabulous. Students love learning about their heroes. It’s an annual fifth-grade tradition that’s been around for at least 10 years.”

She looks forward to seeing some favorites.

“The tallest in the class is always Abe Lincoln and we always have an FDR in the wheelchair,” she said, adding that this is the first time she remembers seeing lawman Wyatt Earp, but scientist Albert Einstein hasn’t missed a year – except when it wasn’t held because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is actually the first time parents have come in since March 2020. We’ve had lots of smiles,” she said.

During the wax museum, fifth-grade teacher Marilyn Miller said there were expectations.

“We have a rubric for the wax museum that includes their speech, the clarity of their voice, their stance,” she said. “Younger students come and listen to the presentations and fill out an info sheet. They’re excited because they know they’re coming down the line and will be able to do this in fifth grade.”

Not only did students have to clearly recite facts and history of their heroes while in costume, but they also researched and wrote a paper and made a poster. Fifth-grade teacher Janet Tetzloff said students had several weeks to prepare.

“We asked they have at least six achievements, tie in two events that happened in their lifetime, include a famous quote and ‘an attitude of gratitude’ or what contributions the person has made to our society,” she said. “If they have someone who isn’t on the list, they check with us, but we continue to update it. Our ‘hero’ list has doubled since we began.”

While Miller acknowledges it is a fun event, students are learning and practicing their reading, writing, speaking and research skills.

“We touch on primary and secondary sources, work on how to make an outline and teach proofreading skills. Our librarian taught them how to use hooks such as using stories, quotes, imaginations to interest people in their life stories,” she said. “It’s an opportunity that gets students excited about learning and sharing it with others.”