For the Beta Lambda Delta Chapter at Jefferson State Community College’s Shelby Campus in Alabama, it was a long journey from looking at the Honors in Action Guide for the first time to receiving its Honors in Action Project Award onstage at PTK Catalyst 2017.
Here, the chapter shares the inside scoop on how they built an outstanding project – literally from the ground up.
Beta Lambda Delta’s “Digscovery” Honors in Action Project began with an extensive academic study of the role of myths in reflecting and even creating truth. From their research, the chapter landed on this finding: “Instead of myth and reality being oppositional, myth can actually serve as a vehicle for preserving and representing truth.”
Key corollaries emerged, including:
- Historical myths can be discovered through careful, respectful archaeological expeditions.
- Archaeological expeditions not conducted with care can damage the past they seek to preserve.
- Like previous people, modern individuals express the values found in their myths through creating utilitarian and artistic objects.
The last insight that led them to a provocative question: Could a historical study of myths reveal truths about current culture?
The answer to their question was to create “Digscovery,” an interactive archeology project pairing Phi Theta Kappa members with fifth grade students from two local elementary schools.
Digscovery was by no means an easy, last-minute operation, but one that required careful study, planning, and execution over several months. Advisor Dr. Liesl Harris said the chapter spent most of the year working on the project.
“After visiting the Birmingham Museum of Art together, each school dreamed up a culture, complete with rules and values, and then made artifacts representing their cultures,” Harris explained.
Phi Theta Kappa students then buried the artifacts and created an archaeological grid at each dig site. The Cornerstone and Hilltop students excavated the other school’s artifacts and interpreted the culture they “digscovered.” Findings were presented at a grand finale celebration at Jefferson State in November, and artifacts were displayed museum style for students and parents to view.
Throughout the project, Jefferson State students served as tour guides, consultants, and advisors for the children.
The Digscovery project was designed to encourage students to think about how different people represent themselves and reflect on similarities and differences of things such as customs, clothing, and items culturally.
The chapter collaborated with Jefferson State’s Community Outreach Division, Cornerstone and Hilltop Schools, the Birmingham Museum of Art, and received a grant from Wells Fargo to sponsor a luncheon at the museum. In addition, the Shelby County Reporter newspaper ran a three-part series on the project.
Chapter leadership roles created specifically for the project included:
- Two lesson plan specialists, who wrote lessons used with fifth-grade students
- Six education specialists, who taught the plans to the fifth graders
- Two grant writers, who secured crucial funding from Wells Fargo Bank
- One logistics manager, who coordinated museum visits, school visits and the final presentation
- Six artistic directors, who assisted students in creating their cultures and artifacts
- Two site directors, who prepared the dig sites and supported the students during their digs
- One videographer who documented the project
- Two data analysts, who analyzed pre-/post-project surveys and documented what was learned
- One media liaison, who wrote press releases and worked with the media covering the project
Chapter Officers and members participated in the following training especially for the project:
- Education symposium
- Grant-writing workshop
- Birmingham Museum of Art training
- Archaeology symposium
- Data analysis training
- Media training
Chapter leaders became frustrated when numerous schools did not return their messages. Yet, something even better emerged.
After reaching out to more than 20 schools, they were able to work with Cornerstone School, a private inner-city school, and Hilltop School, a well-funded Montessori suburban school. Bringing together such culturally different students created a “metanarrative” to the project.
As students created cultures, they also learned about cultures very different from their own. The artifacts confirmed the chapter’s hypothesis about relics revealing truth. For example, the economically poor students created a world where food was plentiful and expensive things were abundant. The culture created by more affluent students had the luxury of being peaceful, as most had never known violence. The project allowed these students to gain insights into each other’s lives and for their educators to better understand the challenges they face.
The chapter shared survey results demonstrating the success of the project, and their lesson plans were combined into a published textbook, which will be used to help others replicate the project.
“With Digscovery our college students learned and practiced important skills like research, project management and public speaking,” Co-Advisor Libby Holmes said, “But I believe the real lifetime lessons they learned were about serving their community and the joy of mentoring energetic young spirits.”
Beta Lambda Delta member Hoang Phan agrees.
“Digscovery was the most amazing and unforgettable project I have ever done,” he said. “It has helped enhance my leadership and teamwork skills, and the children’s creations are treasures!”
In addition to learning about myths and cultures, the students at Cornerstone and Hilltop gained invaluable lessons about teamwork, and made great friends with each other in the process. Hilltop faculty member Janet Lewis said the students benefitted from working with others they did not know beforehand.
“It was good to see the kids interacting with the kids from another school and learning about other cultures,” she added.
Harris said the project provided an outstanding opportunity for these elementary students to get an idea of what it feels like to be archeologists, historians, and curators.
“We also believe it was a fun way to expose them to concepts like understanding and acceptance of differences and learning to celebrate similarities at a young age,” she said. “Most importantly, they learned more about each other and about themselves as well.”
Hilltop students Cleo Moore and Hazel Jackson shared their thoughts on the teamwork required for the Digscovery project, advice that might just apply to all chapters working on Honors in Action:
“Sometimes it can be tough, but it’s fun,” Moore said.
Jackson added, “If you work together, you can get stuff done.”
Find resources for your chapter’s Honors in Action Project and visit the Hallmark Awards page for Honors in Action best practices, tutorial videos, and writing tips. The 2018 application is coming in fall 2017.