As she escorted a group of students into a custom-built Winnebago parked outside their elementary school Tuesday, Jennifer Lacey told them to close their eyes and count to three.
“When you open your eyes, you’re not going to be in your school parking lot anymore,” said Lacey, the instructor who was guiding them into the Suffolk County Historical Society’s new Moveable Museum. “You’re going to be in Kenya.”
These second-graders from Nokomis Elementary School in Holtsville became the first students to step inside the Moveable Museum, which made its maiden voyage to the Sachem public school.
Inside the 37-foot-long vehicle, the students examined shelters made of grass mats and wooden saplings, pottery, tools and other artifacts belonging to four nomadic tribes from around the world, including Long Island’s Algonquins.
“It’s awesome,” exclaimed second-grader Adrianna Sigler, 8. “There’s all these things you can see about different countries and what people do … you can see it in person and explore.”
Her classmate, Christian Bertone, 8, said he prefered the museum experience over reading about these cultures in a textbook. “You’re really seeing it,” he added.
Like many of the exhibits at the Suffolk County Historical Society’s Riverhead museum, “Structures and Cultures” features many authentic relics from the past, along with interactive displays and videos. Since it’s built on wheels, the experience can come to students.
In the span of a few hours, more than 70 Sachem second-graders ventured through the Moveable Museum during its debut Tuesday, but the Suffolk County Historical Society expects to bring the traveling exhibit to more than 19,000 students throughout each school year.
“It fulfills a need,” said Lisa Cordani-Stevenson, an anthropologist and archaeologist who serves as the lead teacher for the museum.
Given the fiscal challenges many school districts face today and the amount of time teachers must spend preparing students for state exams, field trips have become less feasible, said Nokomis principal Gloria Flynn.
“We could never take them on a field trip to see something like this, because we are being very stringent about what we do in our district now,” she said. “It [the museum] is a gift.”
At a fee of $10 per student, the Moveable Museum experience includes curriculum materials and two educators, one to lead students on the tour and another to provide an introductory lesson in the classroom.
“They're getting the same information that I would teach to adults, but I’m doing it with [the materials] in their hands, step by step,” said Cordani-Stevenson, who is also an adjunct professor of anthropology at both Dowling College and Suffolk County Community College.
Since the exhibit lines up with the second-, third- and fourth-grade curricula, and meets New York State standards in geography, world history, economics, arts and English language arts, teachers can easily integrate it into what their students are studying throughout the year.
The Nokomis students were encouraged to take notes, draw sketches and ask questions as they walked through the museum, so they would be prepared to write about the experience later on.
Back inside their classroom, second-grade teacher Laura Tutton asked all her students to raise their hands if they learned something new from their visit to the Moveable Museum. Every child’s arm shot up. Some even raised both of their hands.
“There is nothing better than a hands-on experience -- seeing things, touching things and asking questions at the time,” Flynn said. “It makes it a real event for them, something that they remember, as opposed to piece a text.”