SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan – With his hair slicked in a pompadour, Mason Thomas rocked his legs to both sides as he reenacted one of Elvis Presley’s signature dance moves.
The young impersonator said he became fascinated with the legendary singer while researching him for an Arnn Elementary School project. He learned to dance from Elvis videos, dyed his hair black and then wore a striped shirt outfit like the one in “Jailhouse Rock” as part of a living wax museum Friday.
“When I started to learn about him, I got in touch with his music,” Mason said. “I usually play the drums, so I like to shake my arms, but [this time] I decided to shake my legs like him.”
Mason joined more than 60 other fourth graders to teach visitors and students about their favorite historical figure during the event in the school’s cafeteria.
Jami LeFebre and other fourth grade teachers first held the event two years ago to provide their students a different kind of learning opportunity.
The first year of the project began with influential African-American leaders and then branched out last year to include multi-cultural figures. This year, she said, the event had detailed backboard displays to help students better showcase their figure’s life.
“It’s their chance to share their work, share their research, in the first-person point of view,” she said. “It’s more of a hands-on experience for the listener and the speaker.”
Displays included an array of “change makers,” from athletes, artists and authors to inventors, politicians, royalty and other trailblazers.
“I feel like the listeners get to go back in time and go back into that part of the world, that part of history, and take on that person’s perspective on life,” LeFebre said.
Sgt. 1st Class Toby Hensley, whose daughter, Bailie, portrayed Queen Elizabeth, was one of several parents to walk around the displays and interact with the children.
Hensley, the S-3 noncommissioned officer in charge at 78th Signal Battalion, originally came to support his daughter, but said he was impressed with the entire event.
“They put a lot of time and effort into it,” he said. “It was a great production.”
Tyler Paul, who wore a cotton ball beard and had white powder on his head to resemble gray hair, dressed up as Theodor Seuss Geisel, the prominent author known as Dr. Seuss.
“I chose Dr. Seuss because I used to read his books a lot when I was a little kid. I have like 50 of his books at home,” said Tyler, as he clutched his favorite book, “Green Eggs and Ham.”
In the next row of displays, Hailey Martin wore a large paper wig along with pearl necklaces and a dress to appear like Marie Antoinette, the former queen of France.
While she admitted the event was a bit nerve-racking since she had to memorize and recite her lines to many people who came to her display, she said she was still glad to participate.
“It’s important so they can learn new stuff,” Martin said of those who visited the displays. “It’s important to learn new things all the time, because if you learn new things you may have new ideas.”
LeFebre said the students began to research their projects in early January by reading a book, writing a report and then creating a display about their historical person.
“I think they are realizing that life just doesn’t only exist in 2023,” she said of what students get from the project. “Life existed far before we were alive. There have been so many changes from 100 years ago to now. They get to see that advancement.”
For Mason, the event was also an opportunity to show people that, with some grit and hard work, any person can accomplish their goals.
Elvis, for instance, grew up in a poor family and had to deal with adversity on his rise to the top of the music charts.
“You have to learn about the people who faced their fears. Lots of people have to go through stuff,” Mason said. “You have to fight for your dreams, because anything is possible.”