At its inception, the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures was charged with becoming one of the state’s leading resources in multicultural education. Today, the museum continues that mission with the help of a grant from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, a fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation.
With the Santikos grant awarded to the museum in the 2016 fiscal year, the museum’s education department can expand to support classroom teachers in a 10-county service region by bringing museum education tools and techniques to the classroom.
“Our students are facing increasing challenges and pressure to meet state standards,” said museum educator Christian Clark. “Teachers need strong support systems and resources to help them. Museums can teach them how to reinforce crucial skills.”
With the Santikos grant, the museum looks to provide much needed opportunities in the classroom and beyond, particularly, in the experiential aspects of learning. Lupita Barrera, the museum’s director of education and interpretation, explains that students understand and retain information best when it is presented in three ways: intellectual, emotional and experiential. The intellectual presentation comes from a book or lecture. The emotional connection has to do with making a personal connection to the information. Experiential is to learn by doing.
“Learning takes on a completely different aspect when it becomes hands-on,” said Barrera. “That’s really where museums thrive. Museums are immersive learning environments. We can put objects into students’ hands and give them something real they can relate to. We bring that experiential connection to the subjects in their textbooks, and that way of learning helps students absorb and retain information.”
The museum’s Education and Interpretation department’s role expanded over the past few years, as it developed various training and continuing education opportunities for teachers and aspiring teachers. Through professional development programs, the education team has taught how to use museum-based instructional strategies, in conjunction with museum resources, in the classroom.
“We’ve taken materials from exhibits, from the historic photo archives, from existing museum resources, and developed effective and exciting approaches to teaching in the classroom, based on what we do here at the museum,” said Clark. “Students can understand how artifacts and common objects were used, what historic images can tell, get direct accounts from oral histories, or interpret art and music. The museum has even created a classroom model based on the process of developing an exhibit. Our way of teaching is about critical thinking, analysis, research and inference based on evidence. The process is intense, but above all, it’s engaging.”
Since arriving at the ITC in 2013, Clark tracked attendance at training for pre-service teachers (students seeking degrees in education) and continuing education sessions for teaching professionals. His charts show 203 served in 2013, 349 in 2014, and 498 in 2015. Following growth trends and bolstered by the Santikos grant, Clark projects a 100-percent increase in 2016.
Grant funding will enable museum staff members to travel through the region, sponsoring workshops for educators, where they will instruct on the techniques museums use to engage their audiences. The teachers in turn will use the techniques in their classrooms and in training their peers.
“We understand that not everyone can make it to the museum,” said Clark. “Field trip funding is scarce. There’s also a whole lot more focus on core curriculum --- reading, math, science, English. Subjects like social studies are becoming more difficult to supplement with a field trip. When we can train teachers and provide them with resources to help them create similar experiences in their classroom--- for example, we do a class called ‘teaching with stuff’--- you can make a huge impact on the students.”
A UTSA education student identified as Delia, who attended a pre-service teacher training at the museum, remarked on the museum’s demonstration items, “Can you imagine how excited younger students will be holding a piece of history in their hands also trying to figure out what it was used for? It's amazing that they have all the resources for classroom learning purposes. It will help keep the students interested in our history!”
“Student success is a top priority for UTSA and, by extension, for the Institute of Texan Cultures, as educational institutions which serve the community,” said Jude Valdez, UTSA Vice President of Community Services, the division overseeing the institute. “The museum plays a very important role in the professional development of current and future teachers who will teach the next generation of Texans about Texas.”
John Santikos, known for ownership of a movie theater chain and real estate company, arranged his estate into a charitable trust. He had an affinity for the Institute of Texan Cultures, maintaining a museum membership. Only a few weeks before his passing, he called the museum offices to make sure his dues were current.
Santikos’ colleague, Dennis Noll, president of the San Antonio Area Foundation, spoke at the institute’s Smithsonian night in early February about Santikos’ love for the community’s museums, and how a short day at the office probably meant Santikos would be visiting a museum that afternoon. As the son of Greek immigrants, the institute and its mission were close to his heart.
“This is a fitting tribute to Mr. Santikos’ legacy,” said Noll. “What the institute teaches, and how they teach it, will create better students, and more importantly, better citizens. Children will now learn from museum-trained teachers to appreciate other cultures. Funding this grant is an investment on Mr. Santikos’ behalf and it’s going to pay dividends for our community’s future.”VISIT WEBSITE
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Community Connect magazine is an annual publication produced by the Office of the Vice President for Community Services (VPCS). The mission of Community Services is to extend UTSA beyond its campuses into San Antonio and South Texas through public service, extension, outreach and community education. This mission is accomplished through a variety of programs and initiatives, some of which are showcased on this website.