An interactive, outdoor “museum” created by Woodford County High School students gave hundreds of elementary students the opportunity to learn more about important people and groups in Kentucky’s history.
The “Heart of Kentucky” museum took nearly a year for the students to design, and is a part of 2023 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Amber Sergent’s dual credit history course with Midway University. Each year, students in Sergent’s class have the option to complete a collaborative final exam project in the university’s History of Kentucky course.
The one-day event was hosted at Woodford County’s track field. Around 400 4th-grade students from Huntertown Elementary, Northside Elementary, Simmons Elementary, Southside Elementary and Woodford Christian Academy all came to visit the museum’s multiple stations, each brimming with engaging activities.
On the day of the outdoor museum, Woodford County senior Emily Brown couldn’t stop smiling as she saw the results of the work she and her classmates had put in. Brown was a student leader of the project, which centers on Kentucky history and the resiliency and courage of its people.
“It’s been a totally different experience learning about Kentucky through a different point of view,” she said. “I think when people learn it, at this elementary age, it’s hard to fully grasp it. We’ve been able to help with that.”
Among the museum’s exhibits were tech students helping kids build mines in Minecraft, an interactive video game where players can design landscapes, to learn about Kentucky coal mining. In another, culinary students recreated the state’s traditional burgoo stew for students to try.
In another exhibit, a student portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of former U.S. President and Kentuckian Abraham Lincoln, telling the story of how Kentucky was divided during the Civil War and how mental health matters for understanding historical figures. Mary Todd Lincoln struggled with mental health and physical issues. Sergent said another Woodford County senior, a talented seamstress, hand-made a dress similar to one Lincoln might have worn for the student who was portraying Lincoln to wear. The dress even included boning seen in dresses during that time period.
Members of each student group chose a topic for their exhibit based on their own talents and skills, then designed a lesson plan based on Kentucky standards and made it engaging for 4th-grade students.
Small groups of elementary students were led around to each of the exhibits by volunteer high school students. Once students learned about the chosen topic and answered the related questions, their “passports” were stamped. A museum trip was complete once all stamps were acquired.
A fundamental part of the capstone project was not just the exhibits, but the planning, Sergeant said. Students oversaw everything: transportation requests, purchase orders for supplies and central office communication.
Eva Kate Probus, a senior at Woodford County who plans to be an educator, said the project wasn’t the easiest at times with the logistics, but it has been rewarding.
“Being able to provide something substantial for our school district’s students is so meaningful to me as a senior,” said Probus. “History, truly, is best learned when it is cultivated through community. I love that seniors have come together to do something bigger than what is required of the class, and I think the memories and relationships that we have built will be lasting.”
Senior Joseph Carey will be attending college in the fall for music with a specialty in cello performance. He’s been a part of the high school orchestra and hasn’t been able to do small group performances in a while. He asked his friend and fellow senior Patrick Rardin to join him in playing two pieces of Bluegrass music: one happy and one sad to show both sides of Bluegrass.
One of the pieces Carey and Rardin performed was, “Which Side Are You On?,” a song written in 1931 about the struggles and hopes of a coal miner.
“Bluegrass music is our music. So much of the experience from our state and the rich history of it are from Bluegrass,” Carey said. “The good and the bad, the highs and the lows.”
Even when the event is over, Brown said she will look back at the History of Kentucky class and the outdoor museum event as a core memory of her time at Woodford County High School.
“It’s turned into so much more than a final project,” she said. “It means a lot to all of us.”