‘Wax’ Figures Come to Life At South Ozone Park School (with slide show)

by Marie Elena Giossi

Move over Madame Tussauds! South Ozone Park students opened their own wax museum featuring living, bilingual figures at a one-time only exhibit last week.

Thirty-three seventh graders at St. Teresa of Avila School presented a Live Wax Museum, featuring famous Spanish-speakers, both past and present, in the school auditorium on Friday, June 10. Directed by museum curator and seventh-grade teacher Sandra Paz, the museum was open to the school community, parents and visitors. Eighth graders served as tour guides for the younger grades.

With the push of a red “button” on each figure’s hand, the posed, costumed characters came to life, sharing their name and country of origin in Spanish and English, and a short monologue highlighting their lives and good works. Posters about the person and the flag of his/her native land accompanied each exhibit. At the conclusion of their brief, fact-filled speech, they resumed their original postures until the next visitor approached.

Over the past six weeks, students researched and studied these historical figures and modern-day celebrities of their own choosing. Among the persons they selected for the exhibits were civil rights activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, who were in good company with South American revolutionary leaders Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín; and Mexican national hero, Yanga.

Sports stars, such as basketball players Marc and Pau Gasol; and Olympic tennis medalist Arantxa Sanchez Vicario; dominated part of the auditorium. Comedian George Lopez was there, too, as were artists Pablo and Paloma Picasso; Nobel-laureate physiologist Bernardo Houssay; and the 41st Treasurer of the United States Rosario Marin.

This is the second year St. Teresa’s seventh-grade class has hosted a living wax museum. Last year’s focus was on figures in American history.

Paz says this cross-curricular project is fun way to enhance students’ knowledge of three subjects: social studies by researching history and current events; language arts through scripting and delivering oral presentations; and the Spanish language, which her class began studying last year.

In selecting exhibit-worthy figures, her class looked for Spanish-speaking individuals who made positive contributions to the societies in which they lived. Students researched their characters and found materials for their presentations using school and public libraries, school SMART Boards and the Internet.

Three Chilean Miners

Mirmala Sukdeo, Sitorie Bachan and Ashley Munoz depicted three of the most recent history-makers – Jimmy Sanchez, Mario Gomez and Luis Urzua, respectively, three Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days last year. Each girl stated her miner’s name, age and in what order he was rescued.

As costumes, they donned plastic miner hats and orange reflective vests while carrying plastic shovels. Dark sunglasses were reminiscent of those worn by miners to protect their eyes after they emerged from the tunnel.

“Our teacher did a lesson on them and it impacted us so much,” said Munoz, who portrayed the last miner rescued.

Through their own research, Sukdeo said they learned much more about the three men, whose pictures were displayed on posters behind their exhibit space.

“They’re heroes because they had the strength and faith to keep going,” said Bachan, who learned that Gomez “was the person who kept them going and praying. He was the spiritual leader. He taught me that God can get you through a lot of things.”

Bachan’s mom Eslyn stopped by to see the girls and their classmates. “It’s amazing. What they have done is very informative. I can tell they all put a lot of hard work into it,” she said.

Wearing a baseball hat and a handmade “Clemente 21” shirt, Quo Vadis Rodney paid tribute to Puerto Rican-born baseball legend Roberto Clemente. Rodney spoke about his sports career but also told museumgoers about his philanthropic efforts, noting how he died in a plane crash while attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.

“He died because he tried to do something good for the world,” Rodney said.

Not far from Clemente sat Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic astronaut, portrayed by Kelsey Khan, whose presentation included Ochoa’s studies on Earth and outer space and five fun facts about her.

“She inspires me because I like science and I always wonder what it would be like to go up in space,” said Khan, who wore a black business suit. “I would like to be an astronaut one day – and a veterinarian because I love animals. If I can, I’ll be both.”

Rock Icon as Humanitarian

On stage, visitors found music legends waiting to be animated by their touch. Jenessa George modeled Cuban salsa crooner Celia Cruz standing by a microphone in a black-sequined dress, while Nicholas Khan exuded aplomb as Mexican-born rock icon Carlos Santana. A black guitar around his torso, the young man looked ready to start strumming the opening chords of “Black Magic Woman.” Instead, he spoke about Santana’s social conscience.

Khan, who plays guitar, chose to portraythe famous guitarist out of respect for his music, but he’s walking away from this experience admiring Santana as a humanitarian.

“Knowing that he donated over 80,000 guitars to kids in Mexico is really heartwarming. It’s inspirational,” said Khan, who conducted his research on the Internet and borrowed books from the public library on Santana, Mexico and acoustic guitars.

In imitation of Santana’s good will, Khan couldn’t refuse one museumgoer’s special request – to have Carlos Santana sing “Happy Birthday” to him – even though the gentleman admitted it wasn’t really his birthday and well, it wasn’t really Carlos Santana either.

Third-grade visitor Sutherland Brown thought the museum was “very real” and his favorite exhibit featured Shakira, where he learned something new about the Colombian-born singer. “She met (President) Barack Obama. I didn’t know that,” he said.

The “creative expression of academics” impressed Johnny Cobos, who came to surprise Carolina Herrera, portrayed by his daughter Samantha, an aspiring fashion designer. For her exhibit, she brought a measuring tape, thread, buttons and other materials from home, but a classmate let her borrow his family’s sewing machine.

“I think it’s great for the kids. The level of enthusiasm is so unexpected and the camaraderie between the children is nice to see,” he said. “I’m awed at the people they have chosen, like Simón Bolivar. It makes me very proud as a Hispanic parent,” he said, especially because most of the class is not Hispanic.

Paz noted that her class is largely Guyanese, Indian, African-American and Trinidadian with only a small percentage of students from Spanish-speaking families.

“This is academia at its best. I feel proud, not just for my child but for all of the children here,” Cobos added.

Sister Loretta Rybacki, SSC, principal, was also filled with pride as she took a turn walking through the museum, visiting exhibits and listening intently to the characters’ words.

“It’s amazing. Looking at the people they’ve chosen, I think they did a great job,” she said.