2010 Community Service Learning Exhibit at the Discovery Center

PRESS RELEASE: Youth perspective shapes museum exhibit

From Hornbooks & Samplers to facebook & SMART Boards—Living and Learning in the Connecticut River Valley

In a unique collaboration, students in the Pioneer Valley Regional School (PVRS) District are contributing their energy, creativity, skills—and perspective—to help Deerfield’s Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA) and Memorial Hall Museum transform the Great Hall at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls into an interactive, family-friendly exhibit that explores the past, present and future of education in our valley.

Deerfield, MA – February 8, 2010 — From Hornbooks & Samplers to facebook & SMART Boards, the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s off-site BIG READ: Old School exhibit in collaboration with the Pioneer Valley Regional School, will be open free to the public at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls, Fridays and Saturdays February 19th through March 27th.  A Community Reception will be held from 1:00-3:00 pm on Saturday, February 27th.

From Hornbooks & Samplers to facebook & SMART Boards explores each generation’s educational experience and encourages visitors to think about the environment and cultural values that shape each era’s learning—from 18th century Dame Schools where students learned to read the Bible using hornbooks, to one-room schoolhouses, to the development of private academies, to the role of technology and today’s 21st Century Skills. Designed to offer students the opportunity to serve their community while gaining valuable real-world experience, the project was initiated through a Community Service Learning Grant offered by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

The project started with selecting the title and themes. In discussing title ideas, “What’s a Sampler?” was asked by the younger generation, while adults wondered, “What’s a SMART Board?” “We realized that finding words to represent the educational experience of each era that everyone would be familiar with was an exercise in futility,” commented PVMA project leader, Sheila Damkoehler. “When PVRS teacher Ariel LaReau concluded, ‘Maybe, that in itself is the point,’ we decided that letting people wonder a bit about the meaning of the words in the title was not such a bad idea. We hope they’ll be curious enough to come and find out about them!”

Since early December, students in LaReau’s 11th Grade English classes and John Passiglia’s Industrial Arts classes have been involved in both conversation and actual hands-on preparations for the exhibit—from the basics of exploring what museums are and what makes an exhibit compelling, to discussing changes in education over time, to choosing the color-scheme, brainstorming activity ideas, designing the layout and painting and assembling the room-dividers. Some students are writing “News Feeds” for a fictitious interactive “My Facebook, circa 1900,” others have chosen Tobias Wolff’s “Old School” as the novel for their “Choice Challenge” assignment (their creative projects will be showcased at the exhibit). One class even crafted hornbooks and wood-framed slates for visitors to practice their lessons on.

Bernardston Elementary School students are also contributing to the effort. Visual Art teacher Althea Dabrowski led primary grade students through a lesson in an “old school” didactic style, then through a related lesson using today’s pedagogy. According to Damkoehler, “Their work creates a colorful and provocative backdrop for the hands-on ‘Creative Learning Center’ incorporated into the space.”

“The exhibit features many historic images—photographs, documents and samplers—reproduced from Memorial Hall Museum’s digital collection. Benches, desks and accessories representing the 1700’s through today simulate the learning environment of each era, encouraging visitors to travel through time into the past, while also pondering the future. From those who will remember their c.1950 classroom, to the generation that grew up with Sesame Street, to the youngest “scholars” just beginning to learn their alphabet today, the exhibit provides a perfect opportunity for members of different generations to have fun learning together, while exchanging stories of their own personal ‘school days’,” added Damkoehler.

The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in Deerfield, MA is a vibrant regional historical society supporting Memorial Hall Museum, the Indian House and the Deerfield Teachers’ Center. The exhibit at the Great Falls Discovery Center is one of several culminating BIG READ 2009-2010 events, exploring history through literature. THE BIG READ is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest. The exhibition was also made possible by a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Community Service Learning Grant in partnership with Learn & Serve America and the Massachusetts Service Alliance. For information about PVMA and other BIG READ events visit www.deerfield-ma.org or call 413-774-7476 x 10. For information about the Great Falls Discovery Center, visit www.greatfallsma.org or call 413-863-3221.