The school year is winding down for the year, and here at the NCSML we are really going to miss seeing school groups coming to the museum for their classroom study trips. I have never seen anything like this program the museum does in partnerships with the schools, and every time I get to sneak onto a school tour to thank a teacher or share the experience with a sponsor, I am continuously impressed and blown away by the bright student learners and education stewards alike who share learning moments about history, culture and immigration.
The study trip experience at the NCSML is one of the key educational programs we offer. It’s aimed at second grade classrooms and it brings to life the story of a Czech immigrant girl, Maňa, who traveled to Cedar Rapids from Czechoslovakia in 1922 when she was 7-years-old. The NCSML provides a set of pre- and post- visit lesson plans for the second-grade classrooms, and you can tell the students really understand the material on-site because it matches up with what they’re doing back at school in the classroom. The NCSML has oral history videos and artifacts from the real life Maňa, whose story the children hear about on their trip. While venturing through the exhibit and hearing her story, the students are prompted to think about traveling overseas on a steamship, passing through the immigration offices at Ellis Island, and eventually arriving in Iowa to set down roots and go to school in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. These three main experiences “translate” across many cultural backgrounds and family histories.
The other amazing thing about this program is its reach. Students from Cedar Rapids Community School District, College Community School District, Cedar Rapids Parochial Schools, Marion Independent School District, Linn-Mar Community School District, and area home school families are all partners and benefactors of this effort. And the program is growing. Over 2,000 students were served in the 2015-2016 school year.
Plus, the study experience is provided at no cost to the students or the school, thanks to our generous funders who’ve covered the cost of each and every one of these trips.* School districts pay for the buses to bring the students, but typically an entire grade level can get to the museum for a pretty low cost and the school district foundation, PTA, or public school grants cover that bus cost. But on some rare occasions, there just isn’t enough funding to go around.
This year only one Cedar Rapids Community School District School (CRCSD) thought they were going to be unable to come to the NCSML for their classroom trip due to lack of bus funding. For the first time ever since the Maňa program piloted in 2013, every other CRCSD school was scheduled to come, and we just couldn’t bear the thought of missing that last CRCSD school. Thankfully, in the final hour, we were able to turn to our museum supporters and (in only a matter of hours!) a generous donor came forward with funding for the final school’s bus money. My heart was warmed by the support of our community. Students who visit gain historical empathy, tolerance, an understanding of multiculturalism, and a better context about the world around them. Supporting a child’s education in this way makes a direct impact on our local community.
If it’s not immediately apparent, I’m wildly passionate about the impact of this program, and any time I get to see the students learning on the study trips–and enjoying it!– it really blows me away. The school who received the bus funding from a donor visited last week—the last of the year—I was so glad our education team called me down to say hello to the class and teachers! I ducked in the back of the tour group so I could witness those learning moments that I love. And what I saw made me pretty speechless.
At the very beginning of every the tour, before the students meet their “guide” Maňa, our educator asks: “What might make you leave your country and immigrate to a new home?” In second grade, students are learning about these factors and what might push a person out of their home country, or pull them to a new home.
“The government won’t let you speak your language.”
“To protect your culture.”
It’s responses like this that make me proud of what our future generation will look like. Tears actually welled up in my eyes as I pictured these students–who at such a young age were able to wrap their minds around these types of complex issues– as our next generation of teachers, politicians, leaders, and community champions. I’m thrilled the NCSML gets to be a part of that learning in some small way.
Thank you for making it possible,
To give a gift to the NCSML in support of education, visit NCSML.org/support.
*NCSML 2015-2016 Study Trip Funders are:
The Linn County Board of Supervisors-Witwer Trust Grant
Lu and Katherine Svoboda
Countless other donors contribute to the educational initiatives and family programs that take place at the NCSML throughout the year. We appreciate all of everyone’s support of these learning experiences.