The hallways of West Boulevard Elementary School are adorned with students’ artwork and projects, but these projects are more than a showcase of hard work. They are part of West Boulevard’s second annual Children’s Museum that observes and explores U.S. history — this year, “Through Indian Eyes.”
The museum connects fifth-graders at West Boulevard with MU education majors. Eryca Neville, who teaches elementary social studies methods at MU and is the project co-facilitator, said the museum is part of a curriculum that gives elementary school students an opportunity to be part of a experience that is “as multicultural as the society we live in.”
The project benefits the MU students because it incorporates what Neville is teaching them: a method known in the education world as the four levels of multicultural content integration in curriculum, developed by James Banks at the University of Washington-Seattle.
The content integration plan is how teachers use relevant examples from different cultures to illustrate concepts and principles to students. The museum approach addresses levels three and four, the transformative and social action approaches. In the transformative approach, topics and issues are viewed from a variety of cultural perspectives. In the social action approach, a concern is identified and an action is taken.
With the West Boulevard museum, the cultural concern is American Indian history, and the social action is presenting the museum to the public.
By teaching a culturally relevant curriculum that students have helped create through their artwork, projects and research, the fifth-graders are learning new information and sharing their findings with the entire school and the public. The museum is open from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through April 30 at the school, on West Boulevard near the Worley Street intersection.
Jonette Ford, who teaches fifth grade at West Boulevard, encourages her students to see the museum as a way to learn about different perspectives.
“The missing voices are the void we are trying to fill,” Ford said, referring to American Indians. Last year, the museum centered on civil rights.
The museum includes biographical reports of historical and current American Indian figures with pictures, reports on forced removals, reservations, battles and wars, current and continuing struggles, and information about the many American Indian nations — all done by students. The walls are also covered with recreations of original artwork and artifacts.
Most students did not have a strong background in American Indian history before a social studies unit, which began in February and is culminating in the museum. Karen Cockrell, associate professor of education leadership policy analysis at MU and a member of the Cherokee Nation, spoke to the fifth-graders four times during their study, on topics including an overview of Cherokee history and culture and American Indian stereotypes.
“These can be challenging concepts for college-age students,” Cockrell said. “I was very pleased with the depth these young students explored and developed an understanding of this information.”