Community Based Learning Program

State Historical Museum of Iowa
Des Moines, IA

Staff members at the State Historical Museum of Iowa collaborated with two exceptional Des Moines Public Schools teachers, Josalynn Agnew (Monroe Elementary School) and Michele Mead (Scavo Alternative High School), to develop an innovative program that builds relationships between two at-risk student populations while engaging them in the study of Iowa history and culture.

Josalynn Agnew, a fourth-grade teacher at Monroe Elementary, works with a population of students that includes many immigrant children for whom English is a second (or third or even fourth) language. She envisioned a “Museum School” opportunity that would challenge students to learn and teach each other about Iowa history. During January and February, Agnew and her students spend two days per week at the Museum. “The main project is having each student pick an area of interest in which they want to become experts,” Agnew said. “Each student writes a research paper about their topic and creates a project to show their learning.” The culminating event takes place on stage in the Historical Building Auditorium when students present their research to parents, museum staff, school staff, and each other.

High school students enrolled in Michele Mead’s nine-week social sciences course meet at the Museum from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. rather than attending class at the Scavo building. For this course, they set aside traditional textbooks and learning environments and rely on the resources of the Museum, including exhibits, object collections and archival materials from Research Center. Students engage in history, civics, economics, and literacy lessons while earning credits necessary for graduation. The high school students prepared for Monroe’s Museum School by becoming “experts” on Museum exhibition content and then served as mentors and teachers for the younger students.

This unique mentoring program relies on peer teaching and leadership-development opportunities between Title I elementary students and alternative high school students who are experiencing success in a non-traditional school environment. In doing so, they are serving two at-risk student populations and making connections that make a difference in their community.