COLUMBIA — Standing at the end of a hallway ornamented with artwork, fifth grader McKenzie Bullard gleams as she refers to her favorite exhibit: True Beauty. It is one she helped put together.
“It’s about how girls should be happy with themselves,” McKenzie said. “If people don’t like it, they’re not their friends.”
On Thursday evening, West Boulevard Elementary School hosted the third annual Children’s Museum. This year’s exhibit focused on women’s history.
As the many “museum-goers” slowly walked through the main school hallway, they were immersed in a chronological, well-illustrated portrayal of prominent women such as Mary Harris Jones and Rosa Parks.Each woman was painted onto student-sewn quilts with paint colors meticulously chosen to depict different aspects of each woman’s personality. Further down the hallway, students acted as tour guides as they presented murals of various women’s rights issues to the public.
Three years ago, Eryca Neville, assistant professor at MU’s College of Education, and her sister Jonette Ford, a fifth grade teacher at West Boulevard, came up with the idea of a children’s museum. They both agreed that children would learn more effectively by closing the books and working hands-on to create informative historical artwork.
“Textbooks don’t include everything,” Neville said. “We wanted to emphasize history that is not always in the mainstream.”
Neville teaches aspiring elementary teachers at MU and incorporated a program in her classroom that allows her students to have face-to-face interaction with elementary students. They have been involved with the annual museum exhibits since 2006. The exhibits allow them to work with the students and help them gather research while at the same time acquiring experience about how kids learn. Neville said that as her students see what education can be, “more and more get on board.”
Kelli McGlothlin, a junior at MU, said she loved working one-on-one with the West Boulevard students on this project and seeing them discover new things. She said that not only did she get to teach and help the student assigned to her, but she learned a lot from him as well. “He taught me patience and how to deal with the unexpected,” she said. “I wish that all the teacher development courses had things like this that are hands-on.”
Ford said she has always liked big student projects because they wake the students up. “School becomes a whole different thing,” she said. “Instead of sitting in class with sleepy eyes, they get to see a purpose for their work.”
As for the decision to focus this year’s event on women’s history, Ford said that seeing her female students who weren’t as academically or emotionally secure as they should be inspired her to help them become more secure. “I wanted girls to see these strong women,” she said. “And I wanted them to know that being strong is OK.”
McKenzie said she is more outspoken now after studying prominent women in history. “Sometimes I just sat in my seat and looked at my book,” she said. “But now I talk more.
“I learned that you have to go for what you believe in and don’t hold it back.”