By Amy Marquez, Librarian at Marcia R. Garza Elementary in Pharr-San Juan- Alamo ISD
Sometimes ideas for events and library programming come to us at moments we least expect. I work as a librarian at Marcia R. Garza Elementary located in the border town of Alamo, Texas. This year I was so proud to host our second annual Living History Museum at our library. The original idea for this project came from a long -time volunteer at my library named Carol. Carol was a former teacher and she has generously been coming to help me shelve books at my library for a few years now. One day as we were chatting, she mentioned another teacher upstate that she knew who had started a living history museum in her classroom. I was very intrigued by the idea and I asked quite a few questions about the event and I began searching online for some more ideas for how to start a project like this at our library. It wasn’t until a year later that I was able to start on this project with our students.
I had cataloged that idea away as something I’d like to try one day with the students, but I saw some obstacles in my path so I put off planning it for the time being. It wasn’t until I sat down and talked to my principal that next October that the spark for this idea was reignited. My principal informed me she would really like the students in 3rd – 5th grade to dress up as an important figure instead of in a Halloween costume. The light bulb in my head immediately clicked on and I told her I had the perfect plan to have the students research a historical figure at the library and then dress up for the event during the week of Halloween. We could call it the Living History Museum. I further explained that instead of just having them dress up, they could learn research skills at the library, organize their information and then present it to their peers on the day of the event.
“Oh I have the perfect resource for that,” I went on to tell her. As luck would have it, I had recently been trained to use the new Gale resources our library coordinator Nora Galvan had provided training on. Infobits was a terrific resource for this project since it has information organized by topic such as presidents, inventors, historical figures, etc. I walked away from her office inspired to start this project but knowing at the same time I had some challenges ahead of me to get this organized and completed within the next three weeks.
I knew this project would be a little challenging to complete at the library because classes only come in for thirty minutes per week on a fixed schedule. I know many librarians across the state are facing this dilemma. You are given such a short period of time with each class and then the next class is already waiting at the door for their turn. How could I accomplish this project with minimal time? I decided to make it as user friendly as possible for the students by creating an outline for them to fill out while using Infobits for information. Students went online to our resources, chose a person of interest and then used their outline to find important facts about their person. They used two library classes to gather as much information as they could on their chosen topic.
Then I realized, my students come from a predominantly low income area. How much can I realistically expect from them as far as dressing for the event? To accommodate for that, I gave the students the following options: create a poster about your historical figure, bring a prop and be ready to share why it is important, or dress up as your figure. To make sure the event was successful, I sent a note home to involve the parents in the process. Knowing that we would only be able to start the research at the library, I knew the remainder of the work would have to happen at home. I also made sure to get the teachers on board with me. I talked to them about the project and they seemed excited about collaborating with me. Many went on to support their students by giving them time to research and work in class and even providing some with poster boards.
On the morning of the event I was a little nervous as I dressed up as my historical figure. I wanted to show the students that I was willing to do the exact same thing I was expecting of each of them. I couldn’t wait to see how many students would come dressed up too, but I wasn’t sure how many would ultimately participate. I was so ecstatic to see that about 75% of the students in 3rd- 5th grade participated! The event was set to begin in the afternoon and all day students came up to me excitedly telling me which historical figure they were. Originally I planned to house the event in the library but we had so many participate that we had to set up in the cafeteria instead - there were too many people to fit in the library! The students went all out on their costumes and posters. We had Rosie the Riveter, Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Gates just to name a few. Students who had participated in the event lined up around the walls of the cafeteria and in lines in the middle of the room. Then their peers walked by and were able to learn a couple of facts about each historical figure. Even our really shy students were able to present information to their peers in this non-threatening environment. I saw lots of smiles as I walked around the room observing the students. Our district television channel interviewed some of our students and created a wonderful video highlighting the event.
Here is what some of our students had to say about the event:
- 5th grade student Abram Gonzalez as Abraham Lincoln, “I taught myself law and earned my license to practice in 1836…that’s probably my favorite fact.”
- 5th grader Daniel Riojas as Wilbur Wright, “I was always kind of interested in airplanes and I really liked him [Wilbur Wright.] I remember reading about him and thinking that was cool that he was the first to do something.”
- 3rd grader Olivia Lopez as Rosie the Riveter, “I had a lot of fun explaining to people…so now they know the real truth about Rosie the Riveter.”
At our second annual event this year, we had just as much participation. It’s was so much fun to see the students dress up and tell about the information they learned from their library research. One of my favorites this year was Frida Kahlo complete with unibrow! “Frida” was one of our new students this year and she looked so excited to participate in the event. Most importantly, I really hope this project has made an impact on the students. I hope they came away from the event proud of their research, confident as speakers and knowing learning at the library is fun.