Education

Metro students 'put their sweat' into exhibits at Czech & Slovak Museum. Now, the museum is returning favor with effort to recognize graduates

Over $4,000 needed to cover cost of 163 personalized gift packages

Metro sophomore Bryan Lopez uses the virtual reality part of the exhibit in a replica railcar during an opening receptio
Metro sophomore Bryan Lopez uses the virtual reality part of the exhibit in a replica railcar during an opening reception in April 2018 for the high school students who worked on components of the “Guts & Glory” exhibit at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids. Lopez was one of the Metro students who created the replica railcars. (The Gazette)

Background

CEDAR RAPIDS — The National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library has been working with high school students from Metro High School since 2018, when students constructed train cars for the “Guts & Glory: The War Train that Shaped a Nation” exhibit.

The alternative school’s students designed, built and installed replicas over 18 months — the first time the museum had ever collaborated so closely with students on an exhibit.

“Really, it’s the kids who have made this so special,” then-museum president and CEO Gail Naughton said in April 2018. “At the beginning, when we decided to do this exhibit, we thought, ‘How can we make it so it isn’t a dry historical exhibit? How can we make it engaging for students?’ ”

What’s happened since

The partnership between the museum and the school continued, and after two years, some of those students graduated this spring — in socially distanced and virtual celebrations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

To thank the students, staff members at the Czech & Slovak Museum & Library are raising money to provide every graduating Metro senior with a personalized graduation gift.

The museum is seeking to raise $4,075 for the 163 gift packages, though Sarah Henderson, the museum’s K-12 learning specialist, said the museum will cover the costs if the fundraiser doesn’t hit its goal.

“This isn’t like we’re doing a charity for Metro,” she said. “Those students have put their sweat into this community. … We’re giving them these care packages to say, ‘We can’t wait to see what else you do.’ ”

Since their first partnership on the Guts and Glory exhibit, Metro students have built a replica of the Berlin Wall for the 30th anniversary of its fall and researched and designed a robot for the museum’s “A Century of Robots” exhibit that opened last month. When the pandemic closed schools, Henderson said Metro teachers saw their students’ vision through and finished constructing the human-sized bot.

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“It’s been tough because we haven’t been able to work with students at all,” Henderson said. “But we had a great semester of learning and tinkering.”

The museum already has received some $25 sponsorships for students. While museum staff are personalizing gifts for students — with insight from their teachers — sponsors can write personal congratulatory notes for the students.

It’s been interesting to read the kind of advice strangers choose to bestow on recent grads, Henderson said. One man recommended going to work for someone you respect, and said that would take anyone far.

“I wish a stranger had walked up to me at my grad party and given me that advice,” Henderson said. “I hope this shows students there are community members they’ve never met before who care about their success.”

Donations and sponsorships can be made at bit.ly/2LPrPcy.

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Gazette reporter Alison Gowans contributed to this report.

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