Pupils bring history alive

Living Museum project teaches black culture


Brian Stokes wore a Dodgers baseball jersey with the number 42 on the back. He tried to stand as still as a figure in a wax museum -- until a group of his schoolmates approached and pushed a button.

Then Brian turned to the note cards he had prepared and told his friends all about Jackie Robinson.

Brian, a fourth-grader at Randallstown Elementary School, was one of more than 20 children who portrayed African-American historical and cultural figures yesterday in the school cafeteria.

They wore costumes and used homemade props to bring to life figures like Benjamin Banneker and Thurgood Marshall -- and Maya Angelou, Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey.

Marsha Ridgely, a fifth-grade teacher and coordinator of the "Living Museum" event, said she "wanted to do something other than an assembly" to educate the pupils during Black History Month.

"I also think this is a great way for kids to learn, up close and personal, as opposed to sitting in a chair as part of an audience," she said.

For the two-day event, 46 children were chosen to portray figures. They created the costumes and gathered props. Each actor had a nametag on the table to explain whom he or she was portraying. A button was placed next to each name, and when pressed, the pupil recited his figure's biography.

The entire school was invited to the cafeteria-turned-museum. Pupils from kindergarten through second grade walked through the museum Monday, while the remainder saw their peers perform yesterday.

Stephanie Mitchell, a third-grader who portrayed cookie maker Wally "Famous" Amos, stood still, even when her schoolmates nudged her, or acted as if they were going to take her box of cookies. But when it was time to speak, she recited her lines from memory.

Fourth-grade teacher Michelle Thomas enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the museum.

"There's an actual face to go along with what we've been learning all along. And for it to be peers makes it that much more fun," she said.

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