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. …