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Tulare County Museum Veterans Project

Oct 25, 2018 09:00AM ● By Melissa Mendonca

It's An Honor

November 2018
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos courtesy of Tulare County Museum

WITH PAPER CUTOUT POPPIES hanging from the ceiling as part of its newest exhibit, the Tulare County Museum envisions a new way for people to engage with history past and present. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, museum staff have developed an interactive way to teach essential elements of the war while gently reminding young people that military members continue to serve for our freedoms today.

The new exhibit, developed by museum curator Amy King, is an effort to engage more deeply with young visitors by making them active participants in its creation. The poppies on display are not mere pretty paper cutouts, but rather letters written by children to active service members.

Each year, more than 5,000 schoolchildren pass through the doors of the museum to learn the county history through exhibits featuring basketry of the Yokut people, a pioneer village, Sequoia Field, an extensive gun and saddle collection, and much more. This new exhibit, celebrated with a grand opening on Veterans Day, is the first that connects lesson plans within schools prior to the visit, and offers students an opportunity to contribute to the display.

Inspired by a similar project she learned about at a conference in Texas, King quickly reached out to the Tulare County Office of Education for support in developing the interactive idea. The connection quickly led to a series of essential learning questions being developed in alignment with each grade’s framework of history. “For all of the lessons, the culminating activity will be the letter on the poppy,” says King. “We’ll have them do the project in advance of the visit so they can see their work on display.”

The essential learning questions developed by grade level, as well as additional resources, are available on the internet for teachers to access easily. Questions range from “What does it mean to be an American?” for kindergartners to “What does it mean to be a citizen?” for high school seniors. Additionally, King has met with veterans’ groups to bring speakers into classrooms to share their experiences.

“I’m really hoping that the students can see that they can have a large impact on their community by being part of this exhibit and then another impact by sending these letters to strangers who are working to protect our freedoms,” says King. She’s very interested in “getting the kids to see how far their reach can go with their appreciation.”

This new project is an extension of King’s work with American Legion Post 18 cataloging an extensive collection of documents, photos, uniforms and other artifacts from a storage room in the Veterans Memorial Building. “They’ve just been so great to work with,” says King. “We all have a passion for history.”

True to the enormity of the impact of World War I, the opening celebration of the new exhibit will be a grand, patriotic display featuring a color guard, high school band and remarks from District Attorney Tim Ward, a veteran of the US Army. Events start at 11am in recognition of the fact that “the treaty that ended the war was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” says King.

These initiatives to include more community members, from schoolchildren to military veterans, is all part of a grand effort to transform the museum into a sense of being a community center where people come to learn and share rather than simply absorb from fixed exhibits. “This whole project is just all about connecting our community,” says King, excited about the opportunities ahead.  “Instead of just throwing away the display, it’s going to be passed on by being sent to active service members. I feel like if I were a service member and I got a letter from someone far away thanking me, I would feel it was worthwhile.”

The public is welcome to attend the exhibit’s opening ceremonies on Veterans Day and to keep an eye on its website for more activities. “We’re trying to do more events,” says King. “The great majority of our collection has been donated. We’re lucky to have what we have and we want to share it with everybody.” •

Tulare County Museum • 5953 S. Mooney Blvd., Visalia • (559) 624-7326

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