When my youngest son was born, his older brothers decided that they should bring him to school for show-and-tell. Remember how in elementary school show-and-tell was one of the highlights of the week? It is a simple concept, but it’s a pretty brilliant one – and one that forms the foundation for the educational concept of experiential learning. What better way to learn about baby brothers than to bring an actual baby brother to school? Experiential learning, at its best, is lively and engaging. Here in New Orleans, a city that’s steeped in its own past, we have unique opportunities for experiential education in the study of our city’s history.
Just walking down a cobblestone street or strolling past an antebellum house in the Garden District brings our city’s history front and center. Physical pieces of the past help us imagine what it might have been like to live in this city in the 1800s. For an even deeper look at the New Orleans of the 19th century, there’s no greater venue than a historic house museum. By their very nature, historic houses are driven by the concept of experiential learning. In the French Quarter we happen to have two of the most respected historic house museums in the South: the Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses. Under the guidance of Museum Director Mamie Gasperecz, for whom education is a clear passion, and Education Coordinator Jenny Dyer, these museums offer a dynamic learning program that’s memorable, educational and engaging.
The Hermann-Grima House, as anyone who has been there knows, has a beautifully preserved 19th century kitchen. When a student has the opportunity to stand in that outdoor kitchen and watch a cook pull freshly baked bread out of the open-hearth, it’s a multi-sensory experience. (There aren’t a lot of museums that smell like a bakery; the courtyard at Hermann-Grima frequently smells so good that it isn’t unusual for visitors to feel suddenly quite hungry.) After the cooking demonstration, a student might create a 19th century-themed craft or get in character by trying on the hoops of a hoopskirt. The possibilities are vast, and the staff tailors visits to suit the needs of all ages and fields of study.
There are limits, however, to the reach of any museum. Anyone who wants to see the Mona Lisa in person has to go to Paris. Anyone who wants to visit the Gallier House has to go to the French Quarter. For students, this requires transportation; not every school has the ability to transport an entire class of students to and from a French Quarter museum. Undaunted by this stumbling block, the educators at the houses are building an outreach program, known amongst the staff as the “Traveling Trunk,” that allows them to make classroom visits to schools all across New Orleans. They enter classrooms and basically do an extended version of show-and-tell, albeit a much more professional one than the average first grader’s show-and-tell. The Traveling Trunk brings the interactive museum experience to all who seek it, regardless of their ability to visit the houses. The staff and volunteers of these museums are uniformly dedicated to the concept of educating through experience. They are presenting the past in a way that inspires a lifelong understanding of and appreciation for the history of our city, and in doing so they’re most definitely making a difference.
I hope you’ll visit the Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic Houses website at HGGHH.org, where you’ll find detailed information about the educational programming at these phenomenal museums.
Heard something interesting for “making A difference?”
If so, please send it to: St. Charles Avenue,
110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or email with the subject line “Making A Difference” Morgan@MyNewOrleans.com