Reach out to Riches: Collaborating with Museums and Cultural Institutions to Enhance Earning

By Greenblatt, Melinda | Teacher Librarian, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Reach out to Riches: Collaborating with Museums and Cultural Institutions to Enhance Earning


Greenblatt, Melinda, Teacher Librarian


WHAT BETTER WAY FOR STUDENTS TO INVESTIGATE THE TOPIC OF IMMIGRATION THAN TO VISIT ELLIS ISLAND? HOW CAN STUDENTS LEARN ABOUT ROMARE BEARDEN, A HARLEM, NY, COMMUNITY TREASURE AND ONE OF THE GREAT AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS OF THE 20TH CENTURY, AND USE HIS COLLAGE TECHNIQUES TO CREATE THEIR OWN ARTISTIC AND MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS? THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES HOW TEACHER-LIBRARIANS AND TEACHERS WORKED TOGETHER TO PLAN LONG-TERM COLLABORATIVE UNITS ON THESE TOPICS, WHICH INVOLVED LIBRARY RESEARCH, CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES, AND VISITS TO MUSEUMS, LOTS OF ACTIVE TEACHING AND LEARNING RESULTED, FACULTY MEMBERS AND STUDENTS LEARNED TOGETHER, AND EVERYONE CAME AWAY FROM THE EXPERIENCE WITH NEW KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, AND HEIGHTENED EXCITEMENT LEVELS.

COLLABORATIVE UNITS THAT INCORPORATE MUSEUM PROGRAMMING

Although students in K-8 Catholic schools in Staten Island, NY, live close to Ellis Island, most of them have probably never visited the United States' most important 19th-century immigrant gateway. In 2004-2005, two teacher librarians, Marie DeAngelo at Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Benedicta and Farrah Garcia at Immaculate Conception School, each planned immigration units with their middle school teachers. This involved examining numerous primary sources in print and on the Web. They set up a joint trip to Ellis Island and arranged to bring the students together a second time to hold a "sharing day" to present the works resulting from the units. These included scrapbooks, research papers, a quilt with immigration memories, posters, timelines, cookbooks with recipes contributed by students and teachers from many cultures, and a play.

Students were able to discuss the differences between the immigrants of the 19th century and today's arrivals from other countries. The experiences of some of their own family members--immigrants from Guatemala, Mexico, and Haiti--brought the assignment to life and gave it great immediacy. At the Ellis Island museum, students learned about the medical inspections that were imposed on the immigrants, which sometimes resulted in their being sent back to their homelands. One of the students, Dulce C., 14, from Immaculate Conception, explained the procedure in an article in the Staten Island Advance (Lore, 2005):

   Their clothing would be chalked in
   large letters, or they would pin a letter
   to their shirt, signifying an apparent
   medical problem, such as E for
   eyes, B for back, N for neck, H for
   heart, and F for feet. It really was not
   very fair. (p. D2)

In another classroom-library-museum collaboration, students from St. Aloysius School, Harlem, linked a study of Romare Bearden, a renowned artist who lived near the school, with a citywide celebration of Bearden. Most grades engaged in learning about Bearden in an interdisciplinary unit that allowed the art, music, and library teachers to innovatively work with classroom teachers. Students from grades 1-8 visited the Whitney Museum of American Art to view a major Bearden retrospective, and the middle school students visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see The Block, a celebrated Bearden work that depicts a nearby Harlem street. Sister Margaret Dennehy, the teacher-librarian from the school, wrote in her evaluation of the project,

   The involvement of so many individuals
   (classroom, special, and visiting teachers)
   ensured that there were endless possibilities
   for exploring this subject,
   affirming the fact that no one individual
   has all the answers or expertise.
   Together, we are wiser, more gifted, and
   able to provide a richer learning experience
   for our children. This classroom
   teacher and teacher-librarian collaboration
   resulted in a much greater variety
   of materials, sources of information,
   and points of view than any one educator
   could provide. The interest and
   motivation generated during the course
   of this unit seemed to be related to the
   fact that this was an area of new learning
   for many staff members, as well. … 

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Reach out to Riches: Collaborating with Museums and Cultural Institutions to Enhance Earning
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