Area teachers and administrators looking to bring education alive were treated to an evening of history and education themselves Thursday (Aug. 29) at the Fort Smith Museum of History.
"Educator's Evening 2013" was held to highlight the different offerings of various museums in the Fort Smith region that could be used by teachers to highlight local history and science.
Eight different museums and centers took part in the event – The Clayton House, the Fort Smith Museum of History, The Fort Smith National History Site, the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, The Janet Huckabee Nature Center, Sequoyah's Cabin, the Sprio Mounds, and the U.S. Marshal's Museum.
Leisa Gramlich, executive director of the Fort Smith Museum of History, said the event would essentially serve as a one-stop shop for teachers looking for innovative ways to bring lessons alive.
"The purpose is to let our area teachers know what is available to their students," she said. "(The museums) all have materials to let teachers know what's happening at these institutions."
Alana Hicks, who teaches special education (kindergarten through 4th grade) at Carnall Elementary in Fort Smith, said having a one-stop shop like today's event was definitely "more convenient" for busy educators, like herself.
"If I was to go out and do this on my own, it would take more time, which is something that is very important for all teachers," she said. "You have a limited amount of time and something like this, you want to come in and you can get a lot of materials and resources, you can plan what you want to do throughout the year based on what you find here. Certain places, like Sequoyah's Cabin, is only open through a certain time. Well, I didn't know anything about it. I didn't know it was free of charge."
Robyn Dawson, principal at Spradling Elementary, said the event introduced her to many of the area's museums for the first time, including the Fort Smith Museum of History, even though she had lived much of her life in the area. She said being able to take students on a field trip to Sallisaw, Okla., to learn about Sequoyah or to the Huckabee Nature Center would give her an opportunity to show many of her students a world they would never get to see otherwise.
"I'm from the north side of town and typically, a lot of my students don't have a lot of opportunity or resources to get to places that have a lot of culture," she said. "So we work really hard to try to find ways to bring the world to them because they don't have the opportunity to travel much."
Dawson said in many low income schools, such as her own, many of the students typically do not go further than the Kelley Highway Walmart store or Dollar General. In some cases, she has students who have never so much as been to Central Mall, so taking the opportunity to learn about what educational and cultural offerings are available in the Fort Smith area really appealed to her.
"There's lots of things here that absolutely, that our kids could use and couldn't experience otherwise."
Beyond exposing students who do not have the ability to culture, Dawson was quick to emphasize how children learn in different contexts.
"In the classroom, we try to bring the world into the classroom through internet, videos, that type of thing, but that doesn't take the place of a real world experience. So just out there at Sequoyah's Cabin, he had the animals that were taxidermied. Those are animals that my kids may not ever be exposed to in real life except through books. And Sequoyah is somebody that we study in school because of the (his creation of the Cherokee) alphabet, so actually going and participating in something that they can actually see, hear, feel, smell, that kind of thing makes their knowledge of that so much more real than just reading it in a book."
Event's like this one have served the area's museums well, according to Executive Director Julie Moncrief of the Clayton House, who said the events have introduced more students to not only the history of the past, but a way of life experienced by children their own age, just more than a century ago.
"Since the Clayton House is a living history book, there's so much. But what we do with our field trip is we greet the kids at the front door and they enter with their calling cards that they've already made. So they've studied yesteryear's form of Facebook," she said. "At the Clayton House, the students get a great compact story of Fort Smith frontier history because Mr. Clayton was hired in 1874 to begin the real effort of cleaning up crime. He was joined the next year by Judge Parker. So they understand about that and where we are, where we were right across the river from Indian Territory, but then they also learn that six girls and one son were raised in that home 130 years ago."
And it is that bringing history to life that many students would not experience without a trip to the museum, which Gramlich hopes will happen for students across the region following today's event.
"If you read an Arkansas history book, a textbook, you'll be surprised at how very little Fort Smith history is touched on. So it goes in conjunction with the Arkansas history that they're learning in school but it is much more expanded. There's a lot more to learn than what you get in the textbook."