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Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology recognized for educating youth

Hooker Oak Elementary school students use the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology to find inspiration to build their own museums. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

Bridget Comito

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The Chico State Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology has been selected for a 2016 Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in museum education.

The fifth annual Superintendent’s Awards was created by the California Association of Museums.

The organization acknowledges the use of education within exhibits statewide. The anthropology museum has been recognized for its museum-in-the-classroom program at Hooker Oak Elementary School. The program allows students to create and choose their own exhibits and art.


The museum-in-the-classroom program at Hooker Oak Elementary School allows students to create their own museum. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

The museum at Chico State has been open for 45 years and was started by Keith Johnson. The museum is named after former Chico State professor Valene L. Smith who taught at Chico State as an anthropology professor from 1967 to 1998. The Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology is dedicated to training university students to become museum professionals and allows them to become their own curator.

Sixth graders have designed all their own exhibits at Hooker Oak Elementary, based on their knowledge of history and social sciences.

Accepting the award is Adrienne Scott who has been curator for the museum since 2001. In spring of 2008, while Scott was working at the museum, she collaborated with a Hooker Oak Elementary teacher and discussed ways to help students be more interactive with their studies.

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Adrienne Scott is the curator of the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology. Photo credit: Bridget Comito

“I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to watch a whole year of development; it’s a rare thing when you’re working a museum,” Scott said. “We get to watch the ‘ah-ha’ moment unfold as the students become aware of their own learning and become empowered by it.”

The Hooker Oak Elementary students visit the museum on campus for field trips and take inspiration back to their classroom to create their own imaginative museum. This allows history to come alive for the students and gives them a more interactive way of learning about subjects like Ancient Greece and Egypt.

“The topics come more alive rather than just reading them from the textbook. So we help them figure out how to tell that story in an exhibit way,” Scott said. “We help them learn from artifacts and primary documents and how to look at the past beyond reading one thing in their textbooks. It’s been a very fruitful, collaborative process.”

Dominique Herrera, a second-year graduate student and anthropology major has been involved with the museum for two years now. Scott hired Herrera as staff leader after her visit to Hooker Oak Elementary school. Herrera said she’s excited to be involved with the program and is impressed by the sixth graders’ creativity.


Dominique Herrera is a second-year grad student and has been involved with the anthropology museum for two years. Photo credit: Bridget Comito

“These kids from Hooker Oak come up with some amazing ideas and interactive displays,” she said. “They were very much involved with painting their own background. The way they write really captures the audience as well as the titles they come up with.”

It is a year-long process and the elementary students get to work alongside Chico State students. The award says a lot about Scott’s ability to carry a strong program at Hooker Oak Elementary, Herrera said.

“I think it is really incredible,” she said.

Scott will accept the award at the 2016 CAM annual luncheon on March 3, at the Riverside Convention Center in conjunction with the 2016 CAM conference. The museum on campus is located across from the Meriam Library and is next to the Janet Turner Print Museum.

Bridget Comito can be reached at [email protected] or @bcineg1992 on Twitter.

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The student news site of California State University, Chico
Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology recognized for educating youth