Local museums attracting students from across North Carolina

Published 6:00 am Saturday, April 8, 2023

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By Clark Curtis 

For the Washington Daily News


Approximately 160 students from H.J. MacDonald Middle School in New Bern, North Carolina were in Washington recently. Their destinations, the North Carolina Estuarium and the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum. It’s all part of a growing effort for schools locally and across the state to enhance their history and science curriculums outside of the classroom. “Several times over the last few years when we get student groups in this large we will partner with Leesa Jones at the Underground Railroad Museum,” said Tom Stroud, director of the Estuarium. “We will split the groups in two, and rotate them between the two facilities. It offers a very unique experience from both a science and historical perspective. We certainly can touch a lot of bases this way, in just a few hours.”

As Jones, the director the the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum points out these are much more than just field trips. They are hands on learning experiences for the students. “Our unique living history presentation literally explains the mechanics behind the Underground Railroad. How people lived and how the self emancipated gained their freedom. It teaches students what could happen when a network of people all come together to help the enslaved gain their freedom, which is what the Underground Railroad was all about. We also do team building exercises where students are tasked with coming up with three ways to get off a plantation and self emancipate. These are the types of things that are not taught in history books in our schools.” 

Jones also added that the experience  gives the students an ownership of our history by showing them all kinds of people, White, Black, Native American, and Hispanic, and that their ancestors may have participated in helping others obtain freedom. “In the end we hope they walk away with the idea that all people need to be treated with dignity, kindness and respect, and that we are all important.”

At the North Carolina Estuarium, the students are given a detailed introduction to the aquatic eco systems of eastern North Carolina and a deeper understanding of what it is all about. “We will give the students the typical tours we give all of our guests but with much more educational content,” said Stroud. “We do scavenger  hunts in our exhibit hall which literally forces the students to seek out answers to a list of questions by gleaning information from the exhibits. Our science educator will then take the students aside and discuss such things as the importance of our water quality, fisheries, the life cycle of blue crabs, which are native to the area, etc.”

Stroud said that between school tours and student summer camps, the North Carolina Estuarium will host close to 5,000 students per year. Jones added the Underground Railroad Museum has hosted school tours from numerous counties throughout eastern North Carolina, and is already booking dates for next year for return visits as well as new tours as the word spreads. “This partnership offers such a unique opportunity for students to learn about two very different subjects in one pretty cool field trip,” said Stroud. “And to take home some very interesting memories, which include seeing how unique this waterfront town of Washington really is and all that it has to offer. It has been so great to have this opportunity to work with Leesa”

Added Jones, “partnering with the North Carolina Estuarium helps to shine the spotlight on Washington and lets others know what we do here. Together we are offering enhancements to the schools history and science curriculums that students otherwise would not experience in the classroom. It runs the gamut of opening pathways to learning. I’m very humbled and thankful for the opportunity to partner and work with Tom.”