CHINA GROVE — Sixth-grade students at China Grove Middle School got to live a little bit of history this week.
With the help of costumes and props, about 200 children each “became” a historical figure in a live performance for classmates.
They first researched a leader or well-known ancient person chosen from a teacher-created list, and then wrote an autobiographical essay on that person. The students then shared what they had learned in their presentations.
Characters included Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Zenobia — Warrior Queen of Palmyera.
Some of the students chose people from religious history, like the Biblical figure Moses.
On Tuesday, Sarah Maynor dressed in a simple blue robe and white head scarf as Sarah, wife of Abraham.
“One day, I found out I was unable to carry a baby, and this broke my heart into what seemed like 1 million pieces,” Maynor said.
When angels told the Abraham in a vision that Sarah would give birth at age 91, she laughed. But she did have a child, Maynor said, and Sarah would come to be known as the mother of the nation of Israel.
As Muhammad, Maverick Page donned a purple robe and held a copy of the Quran. He told the story of his life, including how he became a prophet.
“One day, when I was walking, I saw these two rich men sitting beside these two poor men,” Page said. “The two poor homeless men didn’t have anything to eat, and the rich men weren’t sharing anything at all, and that made me really mad.”
He said an angel later appeared in a vision and told Muhammad that he was a prophet of God.
• • • Jim Wohlgemuth, a social studies teacher at China Grove Middle, said the “Living History” project is a collaboration between the school’s social studies and English language arts departments.
It was created this year as a way to follow the new common core curriculum, which is meant to help students build knowledge and skills they will need in college and careers.
“Yesterday, I went home... and said, ‘This has got to be one of the best teaching days ever,’ ” Wohlgemuth said after one day of presentations. “Overall, I’m really, really happy.”
He said he’s proud of his students and hopes the project continues next year at the public school.
“Overall, anybody that got up and spoke passed the presentation for me,” Wohlgemuth said. “If you had the nerve to get up there and talk about the character, that meant you had to know about the character to tell others.”
He said they also learned about many other historical figures by watching their classmates perform.
• • • Gracie Warden, wearing a medieval costume dress, said Tuesday that she chose to portray Isabella of France because she “didn’t want one of those people who had regular lives.”
“I wanted someone with a bigger, broader life that someone else didn’t have,” Warden said.
As the queen consort of King Edward II in 14th-century England, who later ruled with her lover through her son, Isabella fit the bill.
Elora Suggs said she also made sure to find someone who had an interesting story.
Wu Zetian, the first and only woman to rule China as emperor, came to power when she accused the previous emperor’s wife of killing her newborn daughter. He believed Wu and married her instead.
“She was devious, and I like being a little devious,” Suggs said. “She also had a lot of achievements as empress.”
For his portrayal of the ancient Athenian leader Pericles, Riley Hunter borrowed a soldier’s costume from his church, complete with a cardboard sword and shield. He also added a beard made out of a jumbo pipe cleaner.
He said the drama students from Carson helped him think about his character’s emotions, like when Pericles would have been angry. They also gave him public speaking tips.
“It was nice to do, and it made me feel good,” Hunter said. “It made me feel like I was actually being the person.”
All three said the thought the project was fun, even if some parts were hard to do.
Sally Ervin-Mabry, a language arts teacher at China Grove Middle, said most of the students were “terrified” at the idea of giving the presentations. The Carson students helped ease their fears.
“One of the objectives in the common core talks about being able to speak effectively to an audience,” she said. “In an age where so much communication is not face-to-face but through technology, the art of speaking to people face-to-face is one still needs to be taught.”
She said she’s very proud of the students and their parents, who often helped the children create costumes and rehearse their lines.
“A lot of them were proud of themselves,” Ervin-Mabry said. “Even if they didn’t dress in full costume, they got in front of a large audience and spoke.”
Teachers Candice Safrit and Ketelyn Frye also led classes in the project at China Grove Middle.