As students depart St. Patrick School for summer vacation, they leave with memories that include classroom projects, special assemblies and – for 3rd graders – Museum School.
For the past six years – excluding 2020 – Miss D’Aurora has taken her class for a week of learning at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. During that time, they participate in lessons, explore exhibits, work on a project and, of course, take daily rides on the carousel.
“I can’t even explain how much I love it,” Miss D says. “They learn so much. It’s crazy to me how much they take in during that short period of time.”
Not every school gets to participate in this program either. Miss D applies each year and is fortunate that St. Patrick School has been selected to return so new classes are able to participate in this outstanding learning experience.
Inside the GRPM Immerse Program
Although informally called Museum School by many, the program is officially known as the Grand Rapids Public Museum Immerse Program. About 52 classes attend each year, allowing students to learn about our communities in a whole new way.
“I pick and choose what they learn so it aligns with our curriculum,” Miss D explains. The third grade is when students focus on Michigan history, and the Grand Rapids Public Museum is a particularly good place to learn about our local heritage through hands-on activities.
Each day, students participated in a lesson that tied into an exhibit or materials at the museum. For instance, they visited the Streets of Old Grand Rapids – what some know as the “Gaslight Village” -- and pretended they were in the Victorian period, using augmented reality to speak to the shopkeepers there.
They were also able to investigate Anishinaabe cultural artifacts and even handle some items from these indigenous people. “They got to wear gloves,” Miss D notes. “They felt very official.”
Of all the lessons, Miss D says her favorite is the River of Time. “It’s all about how the river is why we’re here,” she explains. It takes students outside across the bridge over the Grand River and discusses the many immigrant groups that settled in the area.
Among the groups represented at the Public Museum are Irish immigrants, and an 1844 photo of First Communicants from St. Patrick Church is on display. It’s an image Miss D loves to point out to her class as a reminder of how Parnell is one part of the larger community.
After their lesson in the morning, students work in small groups after lunch and have an opportunity to spend more time checking out the exhibits that are of interest to them. It’s a time when students can be on their own but in a safe environment, according to Miss D.
Making Memories with Classmates
Beyond the academic learning that goes on at Museum School, it is an incredible bonding experience for the class.
“It’s the most wonderful week of making memories with them,” Miss D says. She has watched children blossom and discover the joy of learning thanks to the interactive exhibits. Museum School leaves such an impression that students reminisce with Miss D about their time there even years later.
St. Patrick students have made an impression on staff at the museum too. “I have been told that our kids are fantastically behaved,” Miss D says. People have commented on how well they make eye contact and say hello, undoubtedly the fruit of years of being greeted with a handshake and a smile from Mr. Czarnopys and Fr. Tom at the start of each school day.
There’s no guarantee that St. Patrick School will be chosen to attend the Immerse Program each year and it isn’t free – there is a program fee plus transportation costs – but Miss D hopes her classes will be able to continue to take part in this wonderful week for years to come.