How do we mark the passage of seasons here at the Skirball? Well, as this is Los Angeles, there are few, if any, golden autumn leaves to be found on our campus. But the color gold abounds every fall nonetheless—in the form of public school buses that line our main entrance each and every weekday morning.
These buses carry some of the Skirball’s most precious visitors: students in pre-K through twelfth grade and their teachers, from more than thirty districts across Los Angeles. They come to participate in any one of the number of school tours and performance programs we offer throughout the school year. While we’re proud to be providing content-rich programs that are fun and engaging, I am also struck by how much the students give back to us. Their enthusiasm and curiosity bring the Skirball to life and remind me why I love what we do here.
Recently, I cleared my calendar of meetings and snuck down to our galleries to observe a morning of school programs in action. Here are some snapshots from that day.
We welcomed four classes of students on this particular day. That’s pretty typical for us, and our team has it down to a science (really, an art). Here comes a class of kindergarteners from Yorkdale Elementary. Darn, they’re cute!
These five- and six-year-olds from Yorkdale Elementary have come to experience Noah’s Ark, our award-winning, hands-on destination inspired by the ancient flood tale. The two young Noahs-in-training pictured here are helpfully conveying a pair of monkeys onto a giant floor-to-ceiling wooden ark made of Douglas fir.
Meanwhile, in our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, a class of third-graders from Estrella Elementary sits around a table set for the Jewish holidays. For this program, “At Home in Los Angeles,” the students learn about Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Jewish tradition when families refrain from work and spend time together. Our Skirball educator is inviting the students to discuss the holidays and customs they observe with their own families. One of the girls mentions eating homemade tamales every Christmas Eve with her family, who comes from Mexico.
At the Skirball, students learn through doing and experiencing things together. Here’s a jubilant young guy and his fellow classmates learning a traditional Jewish song.
Many of our programs include art-making projects, often related to the themes of community and social action. Here are two boys making tzedakah (Hebrew for “justice”) boxes, used traditionally in Jewish culture to collect funds for people in need. The boy holding up his tzedakah box just informed the Skirball docent standing next to him that he plans to raise money for homeless people. The boy to his left intends to use his tzedakah box to collect money for animals in shelters.
In our Archaeological Discovery Center, which features ancient objects from our Skirball Museum collection and a range of hands-on exhibits, a group of sixth-grade students from 93rd Street School is engaged in a debate: they have been given a timeline and a set of oil flasks from different eras, and a Skirball educator has asked them to align the flasks with the periods demarcated on the timeline. Once they arrive at some consensus, the students are invited to explain why they made the choices they did. We chose oil flasks because they demonstrate that all people, whether in ancient times or the present, need light to survive.
Two floors above the Discovery Center is Dig It!, a simulated ancient dig site complete with “ruins” buried beneath the sand and a nearby field tent where the junior archaeologists can examine their findings. This enthusiastic sixth-grader from 93rd Street School is showing me her discovery: a clay water jug that she found near the remains of an ancient well.
No, these aren’t high school students. Nor are they teachers playing hooky. They are mah jongg players who have set up camp in our Skirball community gallery and are deeply immersed in a game during our morning run of school tours. Ever since we presented an exhibition on the history and culture of mah jongg in 2012, we’ve enjoyed a steady stream of game-players who come with their own sets and make themselves at home. I include this picture to show the range of people who coexist and sometimes even comingle during weekday mornings at the Skirball, when our Museum is closed to the general public. These lifelong learners are as precious to us at the Skirball as our young students. They are all part of the mix.