Hallie Ford Museum of Art brings social studies alive for local middle-schoolers

The Willamette University Center for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (CASA) and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art recently extended their reach toward a younger crowd, inviting local sixth-graders undertaking their first study of ancient civilizations to tour related collections at the museum.

In the Salem-Keizer School District, every sixth-grader studies ancient civilizations as part of the required social studies curriculum. Ortwin Knorr, associate professor of classical studies and director of CASA, said he decided to develop the tours because the museum’s collections were highly relevant to the curriculum.

“I don’t think teachers recognize that we have real objects from the precise times they are studying in their classrooms,” Knorr says. “The museum needs to be discovered as an opportunity to enhance the students’ lessons.”

Building Enthusiasm

The mission of CASA includes outreach, Knorr says. The center has many programs for adults, but this will be the first for younger students. In this spirit, each student who participates in the tour receives a museum admission pass for the entire family.

“In a way, it’s planting a seed,” Knorr says. “The museum is a fun place, and many of these students do not get to ever visit museums. We hope that these visits create an enthusiasm for their studies and for art, and that the excitement is extended into their families and into their future education.”

Introducing Tangible Lessons

The first tour group of 25 students came from Walker Middle School in West Salem. Knorr led the tour in tandem with the museum’s education curator, Elizabeth Garrison.

The tour encompassed the three ancient collections on display at the Hallie Ford — Greek, Roman and Egyptian — and also made ties between these and the Asian collection.

According to Noe Riojas, the Walker students’ teacher, they engaged enthusiastically with the collections, and brought back meaningful questions and a sophisticated list of “museum favorites” to the classroom.

“There was a lot of jittery excitement at the beginning of our tour,” Riojas says. “But as the tour progressed, and afterward as well, the students were talking about and interested in what they were learning.”

Riojas also says that the students have displayed a stronger understanding of the content of their study since the visit.

“The students seemed very enthusiastic,” Knorr says. “They especially liked learning new things — that even male Egyptians wore make-up, outlining their eyes with kohl to ward off parasitic insects; that Athena is the most important of the gods, not Zeus. It is a much nicer experience for everyone involved if someone with the necessary expertise makes the museum objects come alive.”

CASA hopes to establish a regular program in which volunteer guides associated with the center will lead similar guided tours. For more information, contact Ortwin Knorr at