UCC professor brings history to life for ESL students

Photo Courtesy of Arlene Marcus
Arlene Marcus, Deborah Kemp-Jackson and Carrie Steenburgh stand together at the ‘The 1968 Museum’ exhibit at Union County College. Marcus and Steenburgh were curators of the exhibit.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — A professor at Union County College has turned several years of teaching into an art exhibit.

Arlene Marcus, an English as a second language professor at Union County College, has been teaching her class through the lens of the year 1968, which has taught her students not only English, but about a momentous year in recent U.S. history.

After several years of doing projects and taking trips, Marcus, along with her students, decided to keep the lessons alive by sharing them with others. It was then that “The 1968 Museum” exhibit was born.

Marcus told LocalSource that the course received an educational grant several years ago to help bring the idea to fruition.

“My inspiration last spring was thinking about and facing the final year of the grant,” Marcus said in an April 28 email. “I have collected over the semesters pictures and videos of presentations as well as pictures from trips we took. I thought it would be great to use those images, videos and written assignments as the source of the museum exhibits. I also thought that having former and current students act as tour guides and educators would be wonderful and educational.”

The year 2018, will mark the 50th anniversary of 1968, Marcus said, and she wanted to do something special to mark the occasion.
“Having a museum that teaches students and reminds others of those events is important since we are confronting some of the same problems today,” she said.
The pop-up exhibit, curated by Marcus, her UCC colleague Carrie Steenburgh and the students, was on display at the beginning of April, and once again last week. The exhibit is also slated to show at Kean University.
According to Marcus, her students began the project with an exhibit about the assassinations of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
“This was the most interesting topic for our students this year,” Marcus said. “To commemorate the anniversary of MLK’s assassination, we had a two-day event in our Lessner Building on April 4 and 5.”
One of Marcus’ current students, Jose Gabriel Saltos, created a video about the lives and deaths of the two leaders for the exhibit.
“Our teachers and UCC instill in us the belief that we can reach a higher level of English language mastery,” Saltos told LocalSource in an April 30 email. “This motivates us to try to fulfill our goals and objectives in this beautiful country that we feel is ours. Learning the hard, stormy, exciting, changing and technological past of the USA shows that this country is a country that learns a lot from its own mistakes and values humanity every day. Regardless of your current political trends, people value and believe in humanity.”
For the exhibit, Saltos also recorded the voices of students in the class reciting biographical information and excerpts of speeches, then merged them with excerpts of both King and Kennedy delivering the same speeches.
Also included in the exhibit is a diorama of the Vietnam War made by another student, along with a short video presentation, and a video about the music of 1968, along with some posters and brochures.
ESL student Barbara Resende helped create a website for the exhibit, which showcases the work that students have done for the museum.
Resende, who hails from Brazil, told LocalSource that putting together the museum helped hone her English skills.
“I had to improve my English because I had to know the words to explain about 1968,” Resende said in a recent phone interview. “Reading a lot and collaborating with other students in many ways improved my English. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the U.S. or U.S. history. It just opened my mind. Everything has some kind of correlation. This has given me the desire to think more about things.”
Student Kristine Amisola, originally from the Philippines, helped set up the exhibit.
“Now I feel like I’m highly confident to talk about those times,” Amisola told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “I’m very inspired by MLK and the impact he made. Hopefully people will become aware of the museum.”
Born in the Dominican Republic, student Birma Cebollero said that she has learned a lot about English and American history.
“We learned about Robert Kennedy, and that he thought this country was spending a lot of money on the Vietnam War,” Cebollero told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “We also learned about MLK. … MLK and Kennedy were assassinated but their ideology never dies. It’s important for immigrants and young people to know the past. If we know the past, we can build our future.”
Marcus’ past initiatives with her ESL students have included a visit to Washington, D.C., to see the Vietnam, Martin Luther King and Lincoln memorials, as well as to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Marcus has also taken her students to Broadway and off-Broadway shows and to Bethel Woods — the site of the Woodstock festival — among other venues.
Students have also participated as volunteers at Special Olympics events in the state.
Marcus said that support of the exhibit by the college’s administration would be welcomed.
“We will continue to create exhibits as long as we have student support, financial support and administrative support — that would be nice,” she said. “Our goal for the museum is to get support from the administration or from outside sources so we can begin to create a physical, permanent space. We could ask new and former students to work on our projects and possibly pay them or give them college credit for experiential learning. We would like to have rotating exhibits as we expand the topics, like the Vietnam War, music of the ‘60s, civil rights, women’s rights, Native Americans’ rights, Cesar Chavez, Special Olympics and Summer Olympics.”
Marcus said that her students have gained a great deal from the experience.
“They learn American culture, politics, the power of protest and the influence the ‘60s still have, especially now,” she said. “They study in depth on topics in addition to reading about Robert F. Kennedy. They interview a person connected to the research topic. They do presentations on the topics, therefore teaching each other. Our goal is that visitors learn about the history of the late ‘60s and that they come away with a much greater understanding of our world today.”

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