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Makenna Alverson will portray Nancy Reagan at her school's "Night at the Museum" program.
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Mark Kennedy

When 10-year-old Makenna Alverson chose to be Nancy Reagan in her school's wax museum-style history project, the former first lady was the only living person on the list.

Makenna, a fourth-grader at Oakwood Christian Academy in Chickamauga, Ga., spent months working on her assignment for the program, called "Night at the Museum."

Then, on Sunday, March 6, news arrived that the 94-year-old former first lady had died of congestive heart failure.

Makenna, the daughter of Jon and Melissa Alverson, quickly rallied from the news, but not before a night of quiet reflection.

"I was a little sad that she died," Makenna recalled.

Makenna is the kind of precocious learner every parent dreams about. Outgoing, cheerful and smart, she is a modern-day Shirley Temple. An emerging writer, she dazzles her teachers at Oakwood Christian Academy with her handwritten poems and plays.

"She's always working on some sort of play or story in her free time," said her homeroom teacher, Tiffney Shankles. " It's amazing to see other students in class celebrate with Makenna over something she has written."

When it came time for the fourth-graders at Oakwood to begin their annual wax museum project, Makenna had her heart set on Mrs. Reagan.

The living history project is a highlight of the year for the fourth-grade students at Oakwood, a small pre-K-12 Christian school adjacent to Oakwood Baptist Church, principal Troy Green said. Students appear in costume and, when prompted, give first-person speeches about their character's life and times, Green explained.

Makenna threw herself into collecting facts for a research paper about Mrs. Reagan. She learned, for example, that Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan met as Hollywood actors and worked together on a movie called "Hellcats of the Navy." She studied a book about Nancy Reagan's fashion sense, and she picked a light green "jacket dress" from her closet she thought would match the first lady's taste in clothes.

Makenna also made a backdrop for her "Night at the Museum" monologue, a red, white and blue wall hanging emblazoned with the anti-drug slogan "Just Say No." Her experience in church plays gave her confidence that she could memorize her lines for the March 31 program, she said.

The first Sunday in March was especially busy for the Alversons. They spent all day at Linwood Baptist Church in Lafayette, Ga., where Jon Alverson is the pastor.

"We were planning to go home that night and proofread my research paper on Nancy Reagan," Makenna remembers. "That's when Momma got a text from one of my teachers that Mrs. Reagan had died."

That night, Makenna disappeared into her bedroom and sat at her new desk, which was positioned by a window to help inspire her writing.

"She was supposed to be putting on her PJs," her mother said.

Instead, Makenna emerged from her room minutes later carrying a poem she had just written about Mrs. Reagan.

It read, in part:

"A loving lady passed away, and for that we are sad,

But Nancy's where she wants to be, and I know that she's glad.

And even if she's gone now, and won't see our Earthly sun,

She's now very happy with all her loved ones."

Journalists often claim to be the authors of the first draft of history. For a moment in time, events converged to put 10-year-old Makenna Alverson at the intersection of learning and life.

She rose to the moment, followed an impulse to put her thoughts on paper, and produced a foreshadowing of the writer she is destined to become.

Nancy Reagan would have been very proud.

To suggest a human interest story, contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

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