For his famous figure, Victoria Elementary 5th grader Mason Mauch chose Davy Crockett.
"I just thought it would be really cool to do a hunter, and he also fought in the Alamo, because I like to hunt too," Mauch said. "We hunt turkey and deer, and in two years my dad’s going to take me antelope hunting."
Mauch is one of 45 Ellis County students participating this spring in the Hays Arts Council’s annual Famous Figures Showcase, based on a required school project for the nearly 350 5th-graders in the county.
But this year’s Famous Figures event had to take a different approach, said Brenda Meder, executive director of the Hays Arts Council.
Traditionally held as a competition, two finalists from each school in the county normally present their famous figure speech live at Beach-Schmidt Auditorium on the Fort Hays State University campus to an audience of teachers, students, family and the public. A panel of local judges score the presentations, and the top five win trophies.
But due to the virus, the May event was canceled this year. Meder decided to hold a showcase anyway, but with a twist.
She opened it up to any 5th grader wanting to submit a 2-3 minute video of their speech.
The videos debuted at 6 p.m. Wednesday on the council’s Facebook page, and remain there for everyone to view.
"I didn’t know if we’d have less, because any student that wanted to could contribute," Meder said Wednesday morning as she was uploading to Youtube. "And what’s different this year is we have one homeschool student that’s participating in this video showcase."
As it turns out, 45 students submitted videos before the May 6 deadline.
Mauch was one of nine 5th graders from Victoria Elementary to do so, encouraged, he said, by teacher Shelly Huser.
"It’s a major project for them each year, it’s something they’ll always remember doing and participating in because there are so many skills involved in it," Huser said of the Famous Figures project, noting the research, the writing and the presenting.
"This year was so different though," she said on Wednesday. "Normally we would have done some of it in class, but instead it was a lot on their own."
Teaching in general this year has been very different, Huser admitted, particularly the once-a-week Zoom meetings. But she was able to help the students with editing their Famous Figures speeches.
"This part of being a Youtube kind of thing and Brady Bunch-style has been definitely different," Huser said. "The very first Zoom meeting we had was very cool, just seeing their faces and the excitement of getting to see each other after the weeks we hadn’t been together. It was good hearing their voices and seeing them interact with each other, just get excited about that, was really fun."
Having watched the videos, Meder salutes the kids.
On average, each video is two to three minutes.
"And what’s really cool about this, some of the Famous Figures took their performances outside, where they would have been. Lane Frost the rodeo rider, Sacagawea, the father of contemporary soil conservation, a tennis player, an Olympic gymnast, a basketball player," Meder said. "They did their performances outside on the basketball court, or on the farm with the chickens behind it, or on the river. So some of them got creative in their environment. In some ways there was a unique level of creativity allowed to them, and it was no holds barred."
The videos will be fun for people to watch, but Meder hopes viewers won’t compare.
In fact, the arrangement on Facebook is close to completely random, she said.
"I want as little comparisons and evaluations in that way as possible," Meder said. "So they’re just in alpha order by the kid’s first name, not even their last name. So it begins with Adelaide and it ends with Xiarianna."
Each cyber participant gets the same gold medal on a red-white-and-blue lanyard that is presented to the finalists performing live on stage, courtesy of the Hays Rotary Club, Meder said.
"We are fortunate to receive the support from them that helps us cover the various expenses," she said, adding that Kiwanis Club of Hays sponsors the council’s fall youth theater production for kindergarteners and 1st graders, and Hays Optimist Club sponsors an annual creative writing project.
And Heartland Community Foundation awards general operation grants for the spring and summer youth programs, she said.
Mauch said he wanted to do the Famous Figure project because it was similar to one in third grade, when he portrayed basketball founder James Naismith, who established basketball at the University of Kansas.
"I was really excited to do this project because I remember in third grade I had so much fun," Mauch said.
There was no question he’d make a video either, he indicated. He dressed up in period clothing, including a raccoon cap, and had a gun.
"If I’m going to do all the hard work to make a speech, I’d like other people to see my speech and performance," he said. "It was easier doing it on video, just knowing you don’t have everybody watching you at once."