With “extras” continually getting cut from school budgets, it can be hard for a district to arrange for a field trip, even when a school wants to visit a rich educational institution like the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
That’s where the museum's outreach program comes in.
With its interactive traveling program, the museum sends educators out to schools to give presentations in the classroom or auditorium. For as little as $250 (plus mileage), a school can host an in-depth session with museum staff. (Through April 17, teachers in eastern Connecticut and Rhode Island can enter a contest to win a free visit. The details are here.)
But the benefit extends beyond a cost savings.
A lot of times, students are surprised to find that the history lesson coming to their school is not so ancient after all. Nor is it that far removed from their lives here in southeastern Connecticut.
“For a lot of students … generally their reaction is that they think of Native people as only living in the past — so they are very surprised,” said Tanya Lane, an educator and Group Sales Associate who holds a master’s degree in Public History. “When we did the panel for Standing Rock, students would say, ‘Wow, you’re a real Native American - do you live in a teepee?’ “
Lane added: “The reactions vary, but I think it’s really important that we do make an impact. That these are people who have a living culture and are still here. A lot of what we do is educate about histories, but we always speak about the Native people in the present tense. That is something really important that we do, and I think most people are really surprised by that. I think that is their first reaction.”
For Christopher Newell, Education Supervisor, a lot of the lessons are personal. Newell’s wife and children are Mashantucket Pequot and he said he’s lived on the reservation for almost 20 years, but he wants students to understand that the history applies just as strongly to them.
The Pequot War, for example, is the first time in the history of this area when a European power took on a Native power and won, Newell said. If the English didn’t win the war, they might not have decided to send more and more people here … and ultimately form the United States of America.
“New York might have stayed New Amsterdam,” said Newell, who is starting his fourth year coordinating the program. “… Without the Pequot War, history could have been very, very different. … It’s not just Native history, but Connecticut history.”
It’s that angle, of emphasizing the connections students have to the Pequot past, that’s key, he said. “…not as something extra or special, but really as the story of Connecticut.”
A program typically includes one educator and lasts roughly 1-2 hours. Newell and Lane each stressed that the program is tailored not only to the age group, but also to what a school’s needs are.
The educator brings a variety of artifacts to allow for as much hands-on activity as possible. Artifacts might include stone tools, bone tools or fishing implements, for example, and then some technologies that changed with the arrival of Europeans.
“That’s a big aspect of the outreach,” Newell said. “We bring as much of the museum as we can to them and allow them to get their hands on it.”
The outreach programs are aligned with Common Core standards and, again, can be tweaked to a classroom’s needs. Lane said the museum’s website will soon include a section where educators will be able to reference specific state Social Studies standards. This resource will help teachers integrate a field trip with their curriculum goals.
The outreach programs can be scheduled any day during the week, even on the weekends. Lane also coordinates field trips and group visits to the museum. To coordinate a visit, contact her directly at 860-396-6891 or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum is now open on Wednesdays to members. It opens to the public for its regular season on March 29. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. For more information on the full lineup of programs in the year ahead, including Eyes on Owls on April 15, a Native New England Clambake on May 27, a hands-on, 17th century encampment June 23-24, and other family programs, visit pequotmuseum.org.