BY YASMIN GAGNÉ • ILLUSTRATION BY BIANCA BAGNARELLI
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
TO MAKE A new exhibit, they hire experts who help design everything – the displays, the music, the plaques, the lighting.
So in March, when the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City wanted to make its newest exhibit understandable to kids, they found some experts to help: fifth graders going to school across the street.
The exhibit, which opens on Oct. 15, is all about the bravery of people in Denmark during World War II, who helped thousands of Jewish people escape the Nazis. Kids played a huge role in the resistance, making care packages for families in hiding and even sabotaging Nazi cars. So the museum wanted the exhibit to be kid-focused.
That’s where Dawn Panebianco’s fifth-graders at PS. 276 came in. Two classes (with 34 kids each) got a pile of scripts from the museum to read, including captions that would go next to displays and dialogue from video clips. Each student got a five-to-10-page section to mark up.
“We were pretty deep in our Holocaust unit, so we had some background,” says Elijah Olson, 11. The students went through the entire exhibit page by page, giving notes on what they thought could be explained better, cut or made more interesting. Panebianco asked them to mark parts they found disturbing, and some kids put question marks next to words they didn’t understand.
Cory Herman, 11, liked seeing how her own edits changed the exhibit. “It was pretty cool to work on the script and see how the museum was responding” she says. Even cooler: When the exhibit opens, the kids will get to experience their work in real life. Elijah plans on taking his family and explaining some of the changes the museum made based on his feedback.
But the experience wasn’t just about getting to work on a big project. It was also about the story, which is an important example of bravery, Cory says. “This felt like something that really matters.”