BERKLEY — On Dec. 17, every student at Anderson Middle School in Berkley had the chance to take a trip back to the 1960s, thanks to the hard work of Library Media Specialist Maureen Watson.
Watson and a handful of teachers and parents put ztogether a John F. Kennedy interactive museum exhibit for every student at Anderson to experience. The exhibit dealt with Kennedy’s life, presidency and assassination.
“The 50-year anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination is an important event in our history, but it also encompasses us as Americans because there hasn’t been that many assassinations,” Watson said. “We want our kids to learn in different facets, and through this, they can see what the ’60s were like, the history, and see what it might have been like 50 years ago compared to 100 years ago.
“These concepts are hard, but when the students are immersed in it, I think they understand it better. I think it is important that we reflect on 50 years ago because it really wasn’t that long ago.”
The interactive exhibit provided several ways for the students to learn not only about Kennedy, but also about the way life was in the 1960s.
Students were able to take a picture with a Kennedy cardboard cutout, play a game to learn about the assassination, go over the presidential motorcade route Kennedy took when he was assassinated and check out several artifacts from the 1960s.
“It is tough to bring kids into a space and tell them they can’t touch anything,” Watson said. “When I started doing my research on Kennedy, I started shaping what the interactive features would be. I wanted a game where the kids were the pieces, and I wanted a photo booth. I wanted them to look at artifacts so they could see how things have changed.”
Ianira Edwards, an eighth-grader at Anderson, was able to go through the exhibit, as well as instruct others on some of the displays. She said she felt the exhibit gave her a better understanding of Kennedy.
“You learn a lot more about Kennedy and what he did, and that kind of brings more life into history,” she said. “This helps you understand not just about the events, but about actual people and the emotions involved.”
Fellow eighth-grader Hannah Mulheron said her favorite part of the exhibit was the photo booth, which gave students a chance to dress up in ’60s clothes that were loaned to the school by Regeneration Clothing in Pleasant Ridge.
Mulheron said it also was interesting to see how life was different in the 1960s compared to 2013.
“You can tell how much technology has advanced because we are able to listen to music on our phones and iPods, but back then, they could only use vinyl and record players,” she said. “This really helped me understand what Kennedy (did), too, and who he met and his family life, as the interactive desk had a picture album of their kids’ pony and them going on trips.”
Judy Harbert, a parent who helped out Watson, helped put the artifacts display together and talked with the students about some of the various artifacts.
Watson was able to get an old typewriter and phone, as well as magazines, pins and children’s games that correlate with the 1960s.
“I think Maureen has such a creative instinct for this stuff, and it is great to be part of it and help the kids learn about something before their time,” Harbert said. “I tried to keep some of the yellow description cards minimal so (the students) didn’t get lost and decide not to read. My favorite thing was making the books because they can get a good idea of what happened in Kennedy’s time by reading it.”
Harbert said that, while Kennedy didn’t live that long ago, it isn’t something most people discuss on a regular basis.
“The kids can see how the world was 50 years ago and the things that went on with race and religion, because they didn’t have the opportunity to experience any of that,” she said. “It is something I don’t discuss very often with my child unless they are doing a research project. Through this, they can not only get an idea about what was going on politically, but what was popular at the time and compare to what is going on now.”
Watson said providing students with an alternative to just reading about Kennedy in a textbook will allow them to get a better grasp on how the world was when he was president.
“In order to understand a time period, I think it needs to be relatable. And in order for it to be more relatable, we can immerse them in it here,” she said. “No matter how long ago it was — the students can go back thousands of years — if they wear the clothing or perform the duties like that person, I think it becomes internal and they get a better feel of what it was like.”
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