SPRING HILL — John Glenn, Charles Lindbergh, Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump stood expressionless. They took to the stage on March 29 as figures in the Living Wax Museum presented annually by Michele Durling's third-graders at West Hernando Christian School.
Parents and other family members packed the room, waiting to hear the 8- and 9-year-old students bring to life facts they'd been studying and memorizing for months.
"We start at the beginning of the year — reading about people, learning how to write a biography and understanding how to speak in first-person," said Durling, whose background in art helps he guide the children in creating visual displays that lined the room's perimeter.
There are rounds of rough drafts, editing and getting rid of speaking anxieties.
"Around Christmas time, each child picks the person they're going to represent and begins working on facts about that person," she said. "This year we tried to focus on people who traveled or made journeys." Durling has been teaching for 25 years, the past three at West Hernando Christian.
The 23 third-graders sought their parents' help with preparing costumes and gathering simple props, like a colorful patchwork jacket and guitar for the Dolly Parton character.
Shepard Moss took his role of John Glenn seriously, complete with his astronaut attire and retelling of his role in early space travel. His parents, Staci and Darryl Moss, beamed with pride.
"He did it all himself. He's a great kid," said Darryl Moss.
Characters lining the stage came from all decades and all areas of history. Babe Ruth stood alongside Daniel Boone, Rosa Parks and Sally Ride.
Oprah Winfrey was portrayed by Emani Long, 9, who sported large, pink-framed glasses.
"I like her, because she's helped a lot of people," said a soft spoken Emani.
When it was time for Charles Lindbergh to tell of his flying adventures, Cam Kennedy, 8, spoke in a steady confident voice, staring straight ahead as though frozen. His previous stage experience shined through.
"I take dancing and singing, and I have a gift for reading and remembering," said Cam. "And if you forget your words, you just skip or put in something else."
When the last character had spoken, assistant principal Holly Atkinson presented flowers to Durling and offered praise for her work with the students.
With their speaking parts finished, students stood by displays of their characters. Parents beamed, cameras snapped, and Durling looked relieved. She gathered close with her young students for pictures.
"You did a great job, and I love you," Durling said.
Gail Diederich is a retired Pasco County teacher of 32 years. She writes feature stories with an education focus for Pasco and Hernando counties. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.