June 23, 2014

Students lend a hand with museum exhibit in Merced

The Merced County Courthouse Museum’s newest exhibit opens this week. The city’s 125th birthday is the subject and area high-schoolers helped put it together.

Merced County Courthouse Museum staff and area high school students teamed up on the museum’s latest exhibit, Merced’s 125th birthday.

About a dozen students from a Merced Union High School District summer class on Monday helped put together the display, which is made up of about 200 photos that trace Merced’s evolution.

The “Celebrating Merced’s 125th Anniversary” exhibit opens at 5 p.m. Thursday at the museum, located at 21st and N streets. A program follows at 6.

Sarah Morgan, a teacher and librarian at Merced High, said a $20,000 Institute for Teaching grant from the California Teachers Association helped the students and staff put together the exhibit by covering supplies, field trips and transportation, among other costs.

She praised the collaborative effort and said students are learning while preparing the educational exhibit. “Learning can go beyond the walls of the classroom, and that’s one of our main goals here,” Morgan said.

The exhibit covers three rooms in the museum, each with its own theme: culture, business and government. Some of the photos date to the 1800s and chronicle the immigrants who came to the city for work, others show changes in the economy over the years and the public servants who tried to improve the lives of Mercedians, among other subjects.

Sarah Lim, the Courthouse Museum director, said she purchased a touch-screen computer for this and future exhibits. “We’ve never done that before,” she said. “That will enhance the exhibit and make visitors engaged with the display.”

Rich Sandoval, a world history teacher at Merced High, said that although the “enthusiastic students” are part of a three-week course on local history and the science behind curating museums, they started research for their work on the exhibit in early spring.

Students visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, he said, as well as San Francisco’s Chinatown and other historic places to help hone their skills.

Alexa Lua, a rising senior at Merced High, was hanging pictures and arranging models with her peers from high schools in Livingston, Atwater and Merced. She said she knew very little about Merced’s history before she entered the class. “I didn’t know that downtown was, like, the center of everything,” the 16-year-old said.

That history is still visible, she noted. Monday morning, students said they finally noticed a piece of history that they’ve stepped over many times – the Woolworth’s mosaic that rests outside of Second Time Around Used Books in downtown Merced. “I’d never noticed that,” Alexa said.

For Thursday’s opening reception museum staff members have planned a historical narrative called “Farewell Castle and Welcome UC Merced,” along with music by Fatherly Bond Barbershop Quartet.

Staff members recommend that visitors bring lawn chairs, as the program and an ice cream social are planned near the courthouse steps.

For more information about the exhibit and the opening program, call the museum at (209) 723-2401.

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