Walking down the hall of Clarkdale Elementary School on a recent Thursday was like taking a walk through the pages of a history book.
President Barack Obama was there, as was his wife Michelle. Clarkdale parents could talk to Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Mary McLeod Bethune. Serena Williams was poised to win another match at Wimbledon. Muhammad Ali, sporting his red boxing gloves, looked like he was about to step into the ring.
Guests could tap a colorful “button” on each, and the historical figures would spring to life to recount facts about his or her life and how he or she had impacted the world.
Although their costumes and props may have fooled some of the guests, the historical figures were, in fact, Clarkdale Elementary second graders who were demonstrating what they had learned about famous African-Americans throughout time.
The wax museum doesn’t just teach students about history, according to second-grade teacher Ieshia Wilkerson. It gave them an opportunity to exercise their art, writing, reading, and research skills.
The research project sparked the curiosity in the students, who brought books in about their historical figure and wanted to share them in the class. Some of the students tapped into their interest in art and designed posters dedicated to their historical figure. Role-playing famous people gave other students the opportunity to impress with their performing arts skills.
“They really find ownership and authenticity of their work, and I think that is the most exciting part,” Wilkerson said. “I feel like a better teacher when all of my class is thoroughly engaged in [the project.] That makes my heart smile.”
The students could pick who they wanted to research. Some knew immediately who they wanted to learn more about. Others turned to historical figures that they could relate to like an athlete that played their sport.
Lyric already knew about African-American civil rights activist Ruby Bridges. Lyric chose Ruby because she thought Ruby was a smart and intelligent girl.
Malaya didn’t know about Michelle Obama before she started her project, but she was fascinated to learn that the former First Lady had skipped second grade—the very grade Malaya was in right now.
“I knew she must be smart,” added Malaya, who modeled an outfit reminiscent of First Lady Obama’s fashion, complete with pearls and heels.
The Clarkdale Wax Museum not only gave the students an opportunity for hands-on learning, but it also gave them an opportunity to learn from each other.