Princess Diana, Babe Ruth and Walt Disney walk into a library.

What sounds like the beginning of a bad joke is in fact what occurred at St. Joseph Elementary on Feb. 27.

While these historic figures have long been deceased, their likenesses and those of several other icons took center stage inside the library when Mrs. Kathy Isaacson’s fourth grade class presented their biographical research projects through a living portrait gallery presentation. 

Sixteen students gave presentations to their elementary peers, parents and grandparents who were invited to attend. Fourth grade students decorated posterboard with a portrait of their figure, only with the face cut out for them to insert their own, bringing the icons to life.

The gallery of figures presented included Des Linden, Patsy Mink, J.K. Rowling, Laurie Hernandez, Jane Austen, Henry Ford, Anne Frank, Frida Kahlo, Coyote Peterson, Kobe Bryant and Martin Luther King Jr. Each presenter gave a speech spanning 1-2 minutes for both morning and afternoon audiences.

“I love watching it come together,” Mrs. Isaacson said. “And they’re so proud of themselves afterwards for doing something like this. And I just love that and I’m just so proud of them for getting up there and in front of people and just doing such a good job.”

The living portrait gallery project begins in October, with students selecting the person they want to research and present to audiences. After receiving approval from Mrs. Isaacson, students then research their subjects by reading a biography, taking notes and writing a report. 

The project provides an opportunity for students to not only learn about history makers, but demonstrate reading comprehension, practice public speaking and share their interests and creative talents. It is also inspiring and engaging for all the other elementary students, especially for the lower grades as they begin to think about who they will present as when it’s their turn in fourth grade.

This is the second year St. Joseph fourth graders have done the living portrait project. It is akin to the “living wax museum” projects that Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools students had previously done for decades. For the living wax museum, students would dress as the historic figure, and stand frozen until a person “activated” them by pressing a button, triggering them to begin their brief presentation. 

Mrs. Isaacson said she and third grade teacher Mrs. Patti Kuenzel decided to pivot to the living portrait gallery in 2023 to take some of the stress off the students who struggled memorizing their speeches, and to break up the monotony of having to recite the speeches each time they were activated by guests.

No matter the format, bringing history to life has become something of a tradition at Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools. Maybe one day, BCACS students will be the history-making figures being portrayed by future fourth graders.

“We enjoy doing it,” Mrs. Isaacson said. “I definitely will put this in every year because I think it’s great to have them learn about other people and learn about history and their past.”


Nick J. Buckley is a freelance journalist and 2003 St. Philip High School graduate. He and his wife, Alexis (Rainier) Buckley (Class of 2004) have two children who attend Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools. To reach him, email

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