Some of the Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) most precious treasures including oil paintings, drawings, photos and memorabilia have been catalogued for all schools to share. The rare collectibles are now being used for teaching lessons and school site exhibits at numerous schools in the District.
At Polytechnic High School, for example, students are writing a four-part series of articles in the school newspaper about the art and artifacts located on their campus. LAUSD teachers and librarians at Wilmington Park Elementary, Normandie Elementary, Roscomare Road Elementary and Dodson Middle School have used the Art and Artifact Collection to teach students about their school's histories and to commemorate important anniversaries of the founding of these campuses.
"We have a wealth of materials that provide a rare opportunity for students to touch, think, discuss, perform and write about the history of the District, their school and various topics ranging from Ancient Rome to the New Deal," said LAUSD Archivist Leslie Fischer. "Imagine holding a coin used by Romans in the days of Julius Caesar.
"Because of the educational value of the collection, we also have shared several items with a school outside of our District." Recently, the LAUSD shared some of its finest Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian and Egyptian artifacts, which date as far back as the 6th century B.C., with middle school students at Harvard-Westlake private school in Los Angeles.
In 1932, former Venice High School Principal Edward W. Clark received a collection of over 200 ancient artifacts originally owned by the Classical League of Downtown Los Angeles. He proudly exhibited the artifacts at the school and Venice High School teachers used the on-campus museum, a true treasure trove, for 45 years as a hands-on educational experience.
Recently, LAUSD Curator Leslie Fischer has been resurrecting the practice of bringing art and artifacts directly to students to create unique learning opportunities. Collaborating with Moss Pike, a Latin teacher at Harvard-Westlake, the pair have carefully selected historical objects, created lesson plans and assigned and documented student projects.
Sixth through eight grade students have completed two in a series of four lessons. In the first lesson, Fischer showcased some of LAUSD's ancient coins, dating to 600 B.C. and giving students the rare chance to touch and hold the artifacts. The LAUSD collection includes some bronze coins with diameters as large as doorknobs. Students examined how Roman coins were designed and studied the symbols represented on them. The middle-school students then designed their own monetary systems, which reflect their school, its important staff members and its culture. One student depicted his cafeteria manager on his self-made coin.
For the second lesson, students studied the writing systems on Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets. With these rare and priceless writing tablets, students had the opportunity to design, create and present a new writing system. Consequently, students are beginning to appreciate the difference between a written language and a spoken one.
For the third lesson, which begins Friday, February 27, students will learn about Greek and Roman art and examine authentic, ancient pottery and vases. The teacher will explain the use of mythology to tell a story that is depicted on the objects. Students will then be asked to create a large image of a scene from his/her favorite myth, such as the Odyssey, and describe it in writing. In essence, students will create their own "vase paintings."
For the last lesson, students will study ancient clothing and utilitarian tools such as an Etruscan leech-shaped safety pin, a Roman drinking cup and fork, a spearhead and ancient weights and measures. The final lesson will also feature rare jewelry such as bronze rings, wristbands and earrings.
"Future plans for the collection include a traveling, hands-on artifact trunk to be launched in the spring," Fischer said. "This trunk and accompanying lesson plans, titled 'LAUSD: Legacy of Learning," will be a free resource available to all of our teachers in grades three through eight.
"Soon our students will learn via an interactive, instructional project- 'My School History,' that they can use and examine archival images, documents and artwork of, about and by their school," the District archivist said. "And, we are also planning more uses of this collection."