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History of US: Cultures in Contact Museum – Opens at Sixth Avenue

On Wednesday, December 19, 2018, our seventh grade (Class of 2024) historians proudly opened their version of the History of US: Cultures in Contact Museum with their lower and middle school peers as their first visitors and their parents later that evening. Overnight, the second floor of our Sixth Avenue campus was transformed into the James Fort, a Powhatan Village, and the Kongo Kingdom in the early 1600s, each representing an important culture present in early America.
If you were to ask an LREI alum to reflect on their middle school years, many would suggest the seventh grade museum as a defining project in the development of their intellectual curiosity. While it's in seventh grade that students refine presentation skills, develop taking and interviewing skills, this project is an exploration that ties together these skills and becomes a quintessential vehicle of the 4Cs (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Courage, Citizenship). In doing so, students are encouraged to consider multiple cultural perspectives and look at the world beyond their individual point of view - a central component of LREI's mission to create independent thinkers that bring meaningful change to the world.
Although this project is embedded in LREI's middle school curriculum, the evolution of this annual traditional is a prime example of how LREI regularly redesigns an existing project in order to better support deeper learning. Curriculum is not static and unchanging; input from faculty encourages constant reflection and promotes an environment of constant improvement. In this instance, the ways in which students explore the physical space of the museum has helped them to communicate key ideas and better address the challenges associated with the complicated narratives of our nation's founding. In seeing the curriculum as a subject for inquiry (and  inevitable redesign) our teachers model core learning values that are at the center of the museum experience. This year, rather than delving into the topic of slavery, middle school faculty focused on the rich culture of the Kongo Kingdom.

As seen in our photographs from the museum, students acted as docents - and not as historical role-players, so as to avoid cultural appropriation. With a strong sense of creativity and curiosity motivating each student, the design and curation of the exhibits made for a most impressive visual feat. Behind the aesthetic display, students were thoughtful about the words they used to frame their stories. This aspect of the project also encouraged the students to consider how best to communicate meaning to their visitors. From a display of artifacts to the use of lighting, each scene was carefully tailored by the students' creation. 
Within the context of our academic year, it's important to understand the personal growth that our seventh graders have experienced since the fall. This culminating event required an authentic inquiry that was a direct progression from October's week-long trip to Williamsburg. During their week-long trip to Williamsburg, VA, students actively engaged in their individual research projects about one aspect of Colonial American life. During the trip, they researched their topics by interviewing tour guides and costumed interpreters, and by analyzing primary resources (all of which would become vital elements of student interaction during the museum event). Upon their return to school, they continued the process of writing thorough note cards using their interviews, in addition to books and online resources. Students worked to consistently connect their research to the curriculum’s primary themes: gender, social class, ethnicity, and other perspectives that are often missing from the dominant narrative. After completing their research, students wrote detailed research papers. In these papers, students formulated and defended a thesis statement, constructed an introduction and conclusion, reviewed proper paragraph structure (with an emphasis on analysis of evidence), and wrote source pages.
To view the official photo gallery of the 'History of US: Cultures in Contact Museum" click here