Wax on: North Garner students create museum in gym

kjahner@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2014 

— Friday afternoon, language arts students turned the North Garner gym into a wax museum. And they did it without wax.

Students created a living museum with costumes and props, as they depicted a vast range of characters in front of posters providing details of their lives.

With the theme of risk-takers, figures ranging from Albert Einstein and Jackie Robinson to Pancho Villa, students posed frozen – mostly – in front of their work as other students and parents walked by.

“I’m so proud of them. They worked so hard on this,” eighth-grade Language Arts teacher Jessica Darnell said. “Red Cloud was great, Ghandi was fantastic and the kid who brought the dirt bike (a student from a different class who played dirt-biker Ryan Villopoto) was great too.”

Students had to write an argumentative research paper and produce an informative display to accompany their costume. It was a project Darnell had her students do last year for the first time.

“This is the first time we used the gym. Last time we did it in the classroom, and it was such a hit the administration wanted us to use the gym and make it a big thing,” Darnell said.

The temporary museum featured track star Jackie Joyner Kersee standing next to 19th century abolitionist and Underground Railroad worker Harriet Tubman. Scattered about, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley and Saul Hudson – better known as Slash – posed with their guitars. Physicist Marie Currie stared at a test tube in her hand not far from where primatologist Jane Goodall held a stuffed chimpanzee. Ernie Davis, the first black Heisman winner, stood in full football pads.

Some of the choices represented the iconic, historical titans of their field, including Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and Michael Jordan. Others went more obscure. There were at least two Amelia Earharts, but Rachel Ellsworth went to Katherine Sui Pa Chung for her pioneering female pilot.

“She’s considered the Chinese Amelia Earhart,” Ellsworth said of the first licensed Asian American pilot who became friends with Earhart. “I wanted to do someone from my heritage.” (Ellsworth was born in China.)

Ellsworth didn‘t know much about her to start, but came to admire her ability to break down both cultural and gender barriers.

“She was always free-spirited. She wasn’t afraid to do something she knew she probably couldn’t,” Ellsworth said. “She liked to try different things.”

Even more obscure, Kayla Bennett tabbed Sonora Webster Carver. Carver was one of the first female horse-divers, a circus-like act in which a horse rider would direct his or her stallion up a ramp and off the end, diving into a body of water from as high as 60 feet in the air.

Carver detached both her retinas in a botched jump in 1931, leaving her blind. But she continued diving for 11 more years anyway.

“I liked her personality, and how she never gave up. Everybody told her that she couldn’t do it,” said Bennett, who picked her because she likes riding horses and had seen a (fictionalized) movie about her life.

But most picked well-known historical figures. Michael Holloway had always heard about Malcolm X but wanted to learn more about his battles against segregation. Rather than a fairy-tale icon, he found an imperfect man who made a big impact.

“He made a lot of mistakes in his life. I always hear a lot of about how people do things, so I try to read what other people do and learn from their mistakes,” Holloway said.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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