Alecia Bryner is a Museum Educator at Morven Park. As a Museum Educator, she teaches our Center for Civic Impact K-12 programs, contributes to program development, and leads public tours in our historic Davis Mansion.
It has been an exciting month for Morven Park’s Center for Civic Impact. During the past few weeks, over 1,100 Loudoun County middle school students have participated in two of our programs, learning how to critically investigate issues, make collaborative decisions, and share their ideas with their peers and schools.
Working with these students has been both surprising and inspiring. If you take a moment to picture a middle school classroom during the cold weeks of January, you might think of sleepy teenagers, a little distracted and ready for the sound of the day’s final bell. But, that’s not at all what I experienced – these students were engaged, lively and confident in their abilities to solve some tough challenges. Let me tell you a little about it:
It all started at THE KITCHEN TABLE…
The Kitchen Table
The Kitchen Table is one of our longest running programs. Designed for seventh grade, this activity invites students to go back in time to the Progressive Era to learn about issues of the time, take a stance, and deliberate in order to find common ground between different interest groups. And the best part is they get to wear bowler hats—a very fashionable accessory of the early 1900s.
We brought this program to Smarts Mill and J.L. Simpson Middle Schools this past January. The students were divided into two groups as they engaged in deliberations about labor rights and the conservation of our natural resources. They knocked our socks off as they passionately presented their opinions using primary sources as evidence and collaborated to create solutions that made all interested parties happy. It’s not every day that you see seventh graders take such initiative and volunteer to stand in front of their peers and share their ideas. In the end, each group came up with a unique approach – which we think is pretty cool as it demonstrates the students’ understanding of the multifaceted problems they considered.
The Kitchen Table is not an easy program. It requires students to dig into tough historical problems and decide what they think should have been done in order to meet the needs of many people. The program is meant to help students learn the skills they will need in order to have thoughtful conversations about creating equitable solutions to public issues today. These students showed us over and over again how it's done.
… and then there were STARS & STRIPES
Stars & Stripes
Stars & Stripes are symbols found on the American Flag, representing freedom, liberty, unity, and patriotism, and are the inspiration for one of our newest programs. The Stars & Stripes program, also for seventh graders, teaches students to interpret meaning in symbols and dissect the many aspects of visual communication. The ability to pull information from visual media (e.g. political cartoons, propaganda, and art) and to create your own message-driven imagery is an important skill to have in today's world since so much information is shared this way.
We were thrilled to have River Bend Middle School students participate in this program. As several of our programs do, Stars & Stripes transported students back in time (this time to 1917 at the cusp of the United States’ entry into WWI). Students were challenged to determine whether or not the country should enter the war. They made these decisions through a series of activities in which they interpreted propaganda, symbols in a newspaper, and telegrams. At the same time, they had to practice creating their own visual messages, and display how they felt about joining the war – taking into consideration the sacrifices it would mean for the American people. All of this work culminated with students creating collaborative propaganda pieces reflecting their opinions about this challenging issue.
At the end, there was not a unanimous decision, which prompted an important conversation about how people form their opinions, as well as the importance of respecting many different ideas. As with The Kitchen Table, Stars & Stripes challenges students to look beneath the surface to reflect on individual values and how we can learn from each other to continue shaping the way we see the world.
We are proud of our relationship with Loudoun County Public Schools, which enables us to bring these programs to not only seventh graders but to all K-12 students. The Kitchen Table and Stars & Stripes are just two examples of our civic education programs. All of our K-12 programming focuses on encouraging students to share their voice in order to make an impact. You can learn more about Morven Park’s Center for Civic Impact and program offerings at www.CenterForCivicImpact.org.
Over this past month, while working with the seventh graders at three Loudoun County schools, we observed the profound capability that today’s youth have in forming opinions, speaking out for a cause, and collaborating in order to achieve shared goals. It is incredible to see and be a part of their civic growth.