By GRACE GADDY
PALESTINE — Pocahontas could be found in Palestine Friday – sitting Indian-style, naturally, in front of a teepee – across the room from the Wright brothers, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Disney.
She was there, brought to life through fourth-grader Jessie Beckham, as one of 29 historical figures represented in Christian Heritage Academy's living wax museum, presented by the third- and fourth-grade classes of the K-6 Christian school.
For two hours, dressed head to toe in era-appropriate costume, students stepped out of themselves to embody the life of their chosen figure – a project that third-grade teacher Linda Love said required a month or preparation. Presentations generally lasted a little over a minute and were witnessed by friends, parents and students in younger classes.
“I was put in history for making peace between my people,” Beckham, as Pocahontas, told listeners. “I made peace between the people of John Smith and the Indians.”
Just a few feet away from the peace-loving Indian stood one man with a scruffy beard and a particularly tall black hat.
“I was the tallest president at 6 foot, 4 inches,” third-grader Lily Calhoun, as Abraham Lincoln, said. “In 1863, I signed the Emancipation Proclamation – all slaves were free. I was important because I knew slavery went against the Declaration of Independence; every human is equal.”
Following her speech, Calhoun told this reporter she enjoyed the project and getting to dress up.
“We had to read a biography, and we had to write down what was important,” she said. “We had to dress up like our character – that was really fun!”
For next year, Calhoun said she was thinking of being Hellen Keller – “the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree” – according to her fourth-grade friend Sarah Musik, who was sitting on a pew a few feet away and played Keller this year.
“The fourth graders, this is their second time, but they had to pick a new person and learn more information,” fourth-grade teacher Robin Taylor said. “We did it for reading because they had to read a biography and do research.”
Love said she'd had multiple parents get excited about the project with their children.
“I've had several parents tell me, 'Ah, it's so exciting – our child is learning to research,'” Love said. “They have to follow a rubric for their presentation, they have little cards... And presenting, that's a big skill for kids.”
Both teachers agreed that the hands-on project helped the students to learn about history in a uniquely beneficial way.
“(One student) may not be strong on paper, but this is her cup of tea, where she can feel confident and know that person and research that person and be excited,” Taylor said, adding, “and I have several like that – they thrive.”
Love said she thought the students had done a great job with the assignment.
“It works to reinforce the actual skills they've learned in reading and language in just a different way – to be able to summarize a book they've read,” she said.
Christian Heritage Academy is a kindergarten through sixth-grade institution of Southside Baptist Church, located at 1500 Crockett Rd.