Story and photos by JORDIN RUTHSTEIN
The “American Legacy of Tolerance and Struggle,” as explained by my fifth-grade tour guide, Earnest Dorema, was the inspiration for West Boulevard Elementary to create a museum dedicated to tolerance. The fifth-graders worked with their teachers Mary Lynn Agnew and Jonette Ford to create a “museum” of their work that opened Wednesday, April 21.
The museum begins with a Statue of Liberty whose torch has fallen, showing the struggles in America.
Dorema showed me around the hallway of West Boulevard while explaining the artwork, poetry and other work that the class had put together. The students worked on their pieces over the duration of the school year, starting with basic principles of art and writing and then moving more in depth with the project, according to Agnew.
The poems and artwork, Dorema explained, were interpreted from images students saw in books and online and stories they had read.
The museum also included a timeline, displayed on the walls, depicting struggles between people of different cultures, religions and races. Students created their own Indian Boarding School books for the timeline to show the type of work the American Indians were forced to do. Before-and-after pictures of Native Americans were also displayed to show how the white culture tried to “Americanize” the way they looked.
Another section of the museum was called “Growing Prejudice” and featured a ladder showing the steps to causing prejudice. Finally, there was a slideshow that Dorema helped work on, featuring pictures and voice-overs to further explain the problems with prejudice.
Ford and Agnew have different hopes for what the students can take away from this project, like gaining confidence. Agnew wants the students to be able to take pride in their work as well as the work of their classmates.
“Everyone wants everyone to succeed,” she said.
Ford has another life lesson for the students. She wants the project to help teach the students about problems with bullying. “Intolerance, even in the fifth-grade classroom, can lead to something bigger,” Ford said. This, she explained, ties into the ladder of prejudice that the students created.
“I don’t want to be like these (prejudiced) people. I want to help people,” Dorema said. He talked about ways he could help people, which included running for office some day and continuing to write poetry. “Like in Haiti, my family was there, and I wanted to go help them,” he explained.
The museum will be open until the end of the school year, and the pieces will be moved when the school year ends. Winston Churchill Museum in Fulton will probably host the museum next, as they hosted last year’s museum, though this has yet to be decided.
Agnew and Ford are proud of the fifth-grade class as well as each other’s work. Agnew expressed her desire for more time working with the students on the critical thinking aspect of the museum, and Ford wished she had more time to see the art aspect. Ford, however, did get the chance to paint an American flag in the museum, which she is very proud of. The students enjoyed themselves just as much as the teachers.
Dorema said, “We all had fun doing it.”