By Debbie Adams
The fifth graders at Bonsack Elementary School held their annual “Balloons over Bonsack”
parade on November 21. Students were asked to design and create a balloon puppet to represent
one of the enormous balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. On
the afternoon before schools dismissed for the Thanksgiving holiday, the fifth graders formed a
parade and walked the halls as students from grades K-4 applauded and cheered them on.
This STEM project, which began at Bonsack Elementary back in 2016, was once again
facilitated by teacher Laura Muncey with assistance from librarian Rose McCarthy, and teachers
Suzanne Witcher and Christi Stanley.
The project starts off each year with students and McCarthy reading “Balloons over Broadway”
by author Melissa Sweet. The book focuses on the origins of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day
Parade. It tells the story of Tony Sarg, the puppeteer and marionette master who created the first
Macy’s upside-down puppet parade balloons in 1928, and which have become the parade’s
trademark in the years since.
McCarthy also introduces students to the Macy’s parade website so they can research the
balloons which have been featured throughout the history of the parade and which ones will be
featured in 2023.
Muncey says that this year students in groups of two to four took on the “Design Challenge” of
creating a balloon “puppet” to represent one of the balloons in the Macy’s parade, one that will
be in the parade in future years (determined from research), or one of their own choosing.
Students received a rubric with specific guidelines. At least one balloon must be used, but not
more than four, with all balloons connected to the “puppet.”
Students were required to include at least one defining feature of the original balloon they were
trying to duplicate. For instance, if the real Macy’s balloon had a red nose, they needed a red
nose on their puppet.
The balloon puppet was required to hang down from strings like a marionette. Each puppet had
to be at least 12 inches tall, not counting the strings. The balloon creations also had to stay
connected and in one piece for the duration of the parade.
Students were instructed to brainstorm and sketch a blueprint for their balloon puppets and a list
of the supplies they would need. The design had to be reviewed by a “parade manager,” from
designated school personnel.
Materials options–in addition to balloons and string–were straws, craft sticks, ribbon, Dixie cups,
recyclables (paper towel rolls, lids, tubes, etc.), various kinds of paper, pipe cleaners, felt, fabric,
or brads. Students were also allowed to use glue, tape (minimized or hidden), markers, rulers,
crayons, cropadile tools (like a hole punch), and staples. They were also allowed to use a balloon
pump to inflate their balloons.
Once done, the groups were asked to evaluate the complications they experienced in carrying out
the project and their projects were evaluated.
Balloon puppets this year included Stitch, Pete the Cat, Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, the VT
Hokie Bird, Eevee, the Christmas Bear, Mr. Potato Head, the Gingerbread Girl, Stacey the
Christmas Cactus, Dragon, Tom the Turkey, R2-D2, Mrs. Christmas Tree, Pikachu, Elf on a
Shelf, the Velveteen Rabbit, Football Snoopy/Peanuts, Daffy Duck, Olaf, the Snaxolotl Galaxy,
and ending up with Santa at the end of the parade.
Muncey and Witcher said the balloons this year were more detailed and varied than ever before.
Students in the lower grades lined the walls as the parade wound through the hallways,
applauding and cheering for all the participants and most likely looking forward to a future day
when they would be the ones showcasing their own balloons.
The “Balloons over Bonsack” parade grew from another Bonsack Elementary tradition in which
the fifth graders walk the halls on the last day of the school year cheered on by students in the
Check out The Vinton Messenger Facebook page from Nov. 24 to see all the balloons in this year’s parade.