Kids in Rome, Italy, have more than ample opportunities to learn about history right in their own backyard with the Colosseum, Vatican City and the Pantheon, to name a few.
But a world history course for a class of 10- and 11-year-old students at the New School calls for lessons that stretch beyond Europe’s borders. So on April 29, thanks to the interactive virtual world, the students learned first-hand about the Seminole Tribe of Florida from two knowledgeable sources.
The class’s teacher inquired with the Tribe’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum for his students to learn about Native Americans. Tribal member Quenton Cypress, who is the community engagement manager for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, and Carrie Dilley, the visitor services and development manager at the museum, were happy to oblige.
They discussed aspects of the Tribe’s history and culture with the students on a video call that left a lasting impression on both sides of the Atlantic.
Some areas Cypress touched on were the importance of languages in Seminole culture and the impact European’s colonization had on Native Americans.
His talk made news – literally – in the New School community. Student Anna Sofia wrote an article for the school’s newspaper about the online learning experience. In it, she mentioned how students learned about “…the dreadful European colonization of American Indian tribes.”
Indeed, the topic was an eye-opening learning experience. Another student in the article mentioned how Europeans learn about discrimination related to skin color and religion, but not in regard to Native Americans.
The students also learned about stickball’s Native American roots. Cypress showed them a stickball stick.
“Having a real Native American talking to me was simply mind-blowing. I felt so lucky,” student Maria Sole said in the article.
Dilley talked about the museum’s role in the Tribe and what it offers, and she showed the students a sweetgrass basket.
The learning didn’t stop at the end of the class. Students brought home all the history and culture they digested about the Tribe and shared it.
“One of the most touching parts of the experience was that the students actually went home and told someone about the Seminole Tribe,” Dilley said. “So for Quenton to make such an impact on the students I think is remarkable. It wasn’t some meaningless boring lecture for the students—he reached them on a deeper level. He stuck in their minds. The Seminole story stuck in their minds.”
Dilley said it’s gratifying when the Seminole story resonates – whether it’s with visitors within the walls of the museum in Big Cypress or with eager, young minds thousands of miles away on another continent.
“I think at the museum that’s what we always hope for, that our visitors actually internalize the stories and the voices that are shared in the museum, and that people will actually feel something,” Dilley said. “It was wonderful for me to be able to see that happen with an audience that didn’t actually get to visit us in person but was still so moved.”
A few days after the presentation, Dilley received an email from the teacher that included a video of the students individually expressing their gratitude to Cypress and Dilley. These weren’t just typical thanks yous; they came in French, German, Hungarian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and, of course, Italian.
“I actually cried when I watched their video,” Dilley said. “It really meant so much to me that the students wanted to make the video for us, that they remembered little details about us and what we said, and wanted to share a little bit about themselves. Language is what makes cultures unique, but it also brings us together.”