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¡Vamos al Museo!

kid playing on a giant map at the McClung Museum

Teaching by members of the geography department often goes far beyond the classrooms of the Burchfiel Building. One such event occurred in August 2019 when the Tennessee Geographic Alliance (TGA) was invited to participate in the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture’s ¡Vamos al Museo! (Let’s Go to the Museum) Spanish language program.

The program, which began in fall 2017 and is led by Curator of Education Leslie Chang-Jantz, offers shared learning experiences for native Spanish speakers and promotes the museum as an accessible and welcoming space.

¡Vamos al Museo! connects with families from Lonsdale Elementary, located about five miles north of campus. Students of color make up 87 percent of the school’s population, more than half of whom are Hispanic. The museum expanded the program in 2019 to serve Hispanic students at Norwood Elementary School. Among these students’ families are many first-generation immigrants, who are not yet fluent in English and may be more comfortable speaking in Spanish.

The TGA brought to the museum one of its Tennessee Giant Traveling Maps that very nearly filled the floor of the hall that houses the Archaeology & the Native Peoples of Tennessee exhibit. The map is made of sturdy vinyl, is approximately 16’ by 25’ and depicts physical and political features. Executive Director Kurt Butefish recruited graduate student Luke Blentlinger to assist him with translation as Luke has accompanied Professor Sally Horn on research trips to Costa Rica where he has been able to hone his Spanish.

Butefish, aided by Blentlinger and Chang-Jantz, provided an overview of what maps are and why they are important. The trio then engaged the young students in a lively game of Simon Says on the giant map that encouraged them to explore the geography of Tennessee. Later in the day, Butefish and Blentlinger hosted many other families on the map as part of the Museum’s Family Day that had the theme of Map It.