Children’s mini-museum embraces diversity

For future educators, an important part of teaching is dealing with diversity in the classroom. In an effort to give back to the community, students and faculty from the College opened a mini-museum on March 29 to teach children from second to sixth grade about overcoming stereotypes and accepting diversity.

The exhibit “Face to Face: Dealing with Prejudice and Discrimination” is located on the first floor of Forcina Hall and is the product of a partnership between the College and Kidsbridge, a Trenton-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating children about diversity.

Students and faculty from different departments of the College are involved in the mini-museum. Early childhood and elementary education majors use the museum to plan lessons and work with children in a non-classroom environment.

Psychology students observe children’s behavior and assess their learning at the exhibit. Graphic arts students designed the mini-museum’s posters and letterhead, while other art students designed decorations and murals. The mini-museum also partnered with the Bonner Center, which coordinates community-campus outreach efforts at the College.

Debra Frank, assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education, said that her involvement with Kidsbridge dates back several years to when she sought out resources for a course in multicultural storytelling.

Early childhood and elementary education, Frank said, doesn’t have required coursework in race and ethnicity. Instead, she said these issues are “infused in every part of our program.” Frank said an important part of teaching is recognizing individual differences. “It’s not just about tolerating differences, but celebrating differences,” Frank said.

Exhibits in the mini-museum include the Peace Diner, which shows students constructive ways to respond to name-calling. Students can choose from a wall of printed suggestions (walk away, tell a grown-up, tell the bully your real name) or write their own response (“just mind my business and keep walking home,” “tell them to get out my face”).

Other exhibits include a Name Shredder, where students can write a hurtful name on a piece of paper and watch it be destroyed. In an interactive “Name that Stereotype” booth, students can test their ability to identify negative images. All exhibits have instructions and explanations in both English and Spanish.

A wall labeled “Signs of the Times” shows photographs of signs that banned people of color from all-white establishments. “Signs” also gives information on the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, Japanese internment during World War II and the treatment of Native American, Jewish and Mexican migrant workers.

The photographs, Frank said, are especially powerful because they “show kids that (discrimination) is real, not just something somebody thought.”

The exhibit also includes a resource library, with books about characters who face discrimination and space for children to do art projects.

Another element of the museum is an improvisational show, where students from the College perform and give visiting students the opportunity to interact and show what they’ve learned.

Tabith Dell’Angelo, assistant professor of elementary and early childhood education, modeled the show after Full Circle Theater, a group she performs with in Philadelphia.

Visiting students come to the show right after their experience in the mini-museum and suggest ideas for the College students to act out. “Our hope is that this experience gives the students a novel way to interact with these ideas – they see their suggestions and scenarios being acted out,” Dell’Angelo said. “Some of them come up on stage and play with us; they laugh and participate a lot.”

Frank said that the improvisational group is great training for education students, because being a good teacher is often like a performance.

“It’s always a good thing when you find an activity where you come out different, where you break out of your inhibitions,” Frank said. “I know this will have a lasting impact on (College students) for having done it.”

Frank said that the mini-museum is also in the process of coordinating programs with other departments at the College, such as counselor education and special education.

Lynne Azarchi, executive director of Kidsbridge, said that her joy in working with the College was the establishment of a partnership that benefits both the school and the outside community.

“I am very grateful to the College for providing this opportunity to Kidsbridge so that we may educate and provide this special opportunity to kids from Mercer County,” Azarchi said. Bringing low-income children to a college campus “gives them something to aspire to,” she said. “For us, that’s very rewarding.”