Family ties help students bring historical Americans to life

Seth Peebles as Admiral Raymond Spruance, under whom his great-grandfather served in World War II
Tommy Wiercinski portrays Alexander Hamilton, shortly after seeing him portrayed in the musical “Hamilton”

Central Elementary fifth-graders took on the roles of famous Americans for one night, and raised over $1,000 for charitable causes in the process.

Students researched notable historical people, then donned period garb and emulated wax museum figures. Visitors brought them to life by pushing an “on” button or making a donation. While sharing what they learned about their chosen figures, students raised $1,032.44 for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Family Promise of Grand Rapids.

Over 100 students took part, writing informational books and learning speaking skills to prepare for the school’s 19th annual “Big Night.” One of them, Tommy Wiercinski, researched and portrayed Alexander Hamilton. Just prior to his presentation, he saw the musical “Hamilton” in Chicago and got to meet the cast backstage.

Trent Schalow, aka Roy Rogers, with his great-grandparents Ron Sr. and Virginia Schalow, who are friends with the Hollywood cowboy’s son and daughter

Other students had family connections to the people they portrayed. Seth Peebles researched Admiral Raymond Spruance, the commanding officer of his great-grandfather, William Taylor Peach, who served in the South Pacific in World War II and delivered the atom bomb to the island of Tinian. Trent Schalow portrayed Roy Rogers, whom his great-grandparents, Ron Sr. and Virginia Schalow, once met and later became friends with his son and daughter.

“I feel that their special connection to the story of our country will instill a lifelong love of history,” teacher Lisa Monroe said of her students.

Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio.

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