What’s in a name? Third graders learn at museum

Cohen Belding and his Murray Lake Elementary classmates got to explore behind-the-scenes areas of the museum

In an exhibit room of the Lowell Area Historical Museum, Director Lisa Plank stood in front of a group of Murray Lake Elementary third graders seated on the floor and explained the significance of the Graham family to the area. And to the very building they were inside.

Lowell Area Historical Museum Director Lisa Plank welcomes Murray Lake third graders

The Graham’s impact goes beyond Lowell, Plank explained, as does the impact of several names common to the area. A brief discussion of names and the importance of biography and family history led to questions about the origins of students’ own surnames.

Morgan Anderson asked about her grandfather — “I think his last name was Kropf,” she said — whom she heard had something to do with the Lowell Showboat.

Plank said she hadn’t been able to find anything, but told Morgan “I’ll keep looking.”

Soon, students were calling out their own surnames, eager to hear where their ancestors were from and how they might have made their mark in the area: Gregory, Spaulding, Cooper, Thomas, Hooker, Belding …

“My mom said she’s from California,” one third grader told Plank.

Liam Bolen, foreground, asks a question while classmate Mark Stein looks on

Researching the Local Past

Museums don’t have to be quiet places. Since 2016, district third graders spend two full days there as part of a program that acts as a crash course in local history.

The immersion culminates the third grade unit on Michigan history. Activities this year include mapping the Lowell area during the fur trade, and job simulations of museum archivists and curators using old newspapers and other documents to create a mock exhibit based on a real-life person they research.

“I love this program because it puts the kids in charge,” said Shantelle Ford, museum administrative assistant and researcher. “It’s super fun for us to see their excitement.”

Murray Lake third graders piloted museum immersion in 2016. Now, all district third graders participate.

“Students have an opportunity to put what they hear in the classroom into action by reading the information at the museum and then doing hands-on activities to make it real for them,” said Murray Lake Elementary teacher April Simmons.

And by learning about local people and their impact on the community and beyond, Simmons said, “They learn that they can grow up here in Lowell and move on to become anything they want, anywhere they want.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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