A Late Summer Reflection on the Sounds of Spring

Lois Stoehr is responsible for school and family programs at Winterthur and is a 2004 graduate of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. She escapes the heat of late summer by visiting air-conditioned museums and shady public gardens with her husband. A few of their favorite destinations include Chanticleer, the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, and Historic Deerfield.

Thank-you note from a Harlan Elementary student (click to see larger version)

September is a funny time of year for those of us in the School and Community Programs department at Winterthur. School is back in session with all of its related hustle and bustle. Teachers and students have returned to their classrooms and are learning more about each other and the expectations that will guide their efforts over the next nine months. But, however boisterous it might be in school hallways right now, September is a quiet time for school programs in the museum. Consequently, I find myself reflecting on the previous busy spring and (perhaps not unlike teachers and students) eagerly looking forward to the spring ahead.

One of my favorite sounds in springtime is the rumble of a diesel engine outside my office window. To me, that sound, more than the chirping of birds or the pattering of rain, announces the presence of the season. Usually succeeded by a din of youthful voices, the diesel engine and the school bus it propels indicate the arrival of children who have come to Winterthur on a field trip. April and May are our busiest months for field trips, and anywhere from two to six buses a day navigate their way from Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware to deposit their scholarly passengers at our front door.

Excerpt from a thank-you note from a Harlan Elementary student

Among our visitors this spring were the students of Harlan Elementary School. Located a mere seven miles from Winterthur, Harlan’s community is tremendously different from the prosperous developments and country clubs that border our estate. Seventy-three percent of Harlan’s students come from low-income homes, while eighty-six percent represent racial or ethnic minorities. Though it may seem inconceivable to those of us raised in even middle-class households, many Harlan students spend an entire summer without ever seeing one book, much less having one read to them—a sad fact shared with me by Harlan Elementary’s principal, Dorrell Green, with whom I met in August 2010.

Thank-you note from a Harlan Elementary student (click to see larger version)

Mr. Green had come to Winterthur to discuss an invitation: would every student from Harlan attend a free field trip during the 2010–11 school year in celebration of Winterthur’s 50th year of school programming? Although we sincerely wished we could extend this invitation to all schools, funding limited us to select just one, and Harlan was chosen because 50 years earlier, in October of 1960, it was one of the first six schools to attend a Winterthur school program. It was also the only one of those six that still exists. Mr. Green’s answer was a resounding “YES!”

Recognizing the need to expose students to new environments, new opportunities, and new ways of thinking and learning, he was eager to have his students visit a place they might not have found on their own. We were grateful to have them and are already looking forward to welcoming some of the classes back for new programs and adventures.

Excerpt from a thank-you note from a Harlan Elementary student

So, like some of the more conventional sounds and sights associated with spring’s arrival—and soon, fall—the diesel engine of a school bus also bespeaks growth. Children who visit Winterthur, or any other cultural institution or historic site, learn far more from their experience than the facts that can be codified by curriculum standards. Mainly, they discover that learning can happen anywhere, at any time—and moreover, it can be FUN! Come join us!

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