Parkview Elementary School teacher Fran Fleniken made her way down row after row of students dressed to represent their favorite historical figures, making sure all 80 costumes were carefully documented.
Every 4 to 5 years, the school presents what it calls a Wax Museum of Heroes. Students create costumes with their parents’ help and compose 30-second summaries of their historical figure, which are rehearsed again and again until they are second-nature.
This year’s recent museum project repeated that pattern.
All students have a coffee can at their feet, and a sticker reading “press” on their lapel. They’re all motionless, with strict instructions not to move a muscle until they hear the clink of a quarter in their can.
There is one exception to this rule, Fleniken said. If they hear a teacher say, “Let me see if I can get that working for you. This is a fundraiser, after all,” Fleniken said. “Back when we started in 2001, it was a penny. I always say it’s inflation,” she laughed, clearly enjoying what she has wrought, though she refuses to take credit.“The kids absolutely love it. They look forward to it. They hear stories about the last one,” she said.
Big sisters and brothers tell little sisters and brothers stories about their time in the Wax Museum. Older students tell younger students.“I had three kids at Parkview,” said Gretchen Barnes, who is also the Gifted and Talented program site coordinator at Parkview. “I had an Abe Lincoln and a Theodor Geisel, who wrote books under the pen name Dr. Seuss.”
She can’t recall what her daughter was, and after a quick text message, Barnes said neither does her daughter.
“OK, good, I don’t feel as bad then. It’s a lot of fun for the kids, though.”
Students are stationed every few feet on the large open room at the center of the school, and up and down the hallways on either side.
They are frozen in a starting position, and only a quarter from a parent or student, plus a press of their “button” can release them, after which they return to the beginning pose.
This proves problematic for Jesus Christ, played by Alec Barbier, 9. Both arms are uplifted in his beginning pose. Barbier, who is in the talented drama program at Parkview, breaks character only at the request of his parents, Lee and Kenneth Barbier.
“It’s hard to stay still, especially in that position, but when someone puts a quarter in, I get a chance to loosen up.”
Thankfully for Alec, Jesus is a popular stop for quarter-bearing parents during the first of two showings at the school.
“You wouldn’t believe how challenging it is to find a Jesus wig for a 9-year-old,” she said.
Costume malfunctions slowed, but did not stop, the fourth-grader.
“The beard keeps falling off,” he said, putting it back on temporarily for his 30-second biography — “so you can get the full effect,” said his mom.
The wig is also itchy, he said, but, the show must go on. And it does, for an hour and a half.
Though the exercise is for fun and educational, Fleniken said, there are a few tears, as well, especially when she constructed the wall of Parkview Heroes.
“We lost two people that are very special to us,” she said.
Susanne Mire, a teacher at Parkview who began the Wax Museum project and helped Fleniken organize it, died of breast cancer in April 2013. “She was the heart of this project, and a great friend to me,” she said.
Also on the wall is Payton Williams, a student who died this year after a long struggle with brain cancer.
Williams was in classes with Barnes’ son at Parkview, and said because they were in gifted units that moved from grade to grade together, the whole class was very close-knit, even going into junior high.
Williams was 13 when she died, and Fleniken said when they were going through photos for the Parkview Wall of Heroes, they found a picture of Williams dressed in her own Wax Museum costume representing Samantha Smith, a Maine child who wrote to the General Secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union in 1982 and traveled to that country after he replied with an invitation.
Smith became a peace activist and served as an ambassador until 1985. Smith died in an airplane crash at the age of 13.
“When we saw that, we just lost it. She was such a neat kid. She always stayed positive, no matter what was going on,” Barnes said.
In honor of these two, Fleniken said, the money they raise will be split. Some will go to brain cancer research, some to breast cancer research, and the rest will be used for school projects like the Wax Museum.