In the midst of developing educational hallway themes for Bulloch County’s newest museum-like schools, a parent has become invaluable in bringing the district’s vision and curriculum to life.
Asked by Lewis Holloway, schools superintendent, and the Board of Education to take on the innovative projects, Deborah Harvey is using walls, floors and windows as her canvas to leave a visual legacy.
“This is one of my favorite projects,” Harvey said.
A free-lancer with a bachelor's degree in biology and a master’s degree in museum studies, Harvey has significant experience in developing exhibits for local attractions such as Georgia Southern University’s Museum, Botanical Garden, Wildlife Educational Center and Performing Arts Center. For Bulloch County schools, she’s worked with the new Sallie Zetterower Elementary, Portal Middle High and Mattie Lively Elementary Schools. Plans are to incorporate similar projects in existing schools, as well.
Harvey said she has built a team of volunteers to assist her that includes her family, colleagues and perfect strangers. Her network extends from government agencies, GSU departments, local businesses, media specialists and students.
“She’s helping bring learning alive and encouraging a sense of wonder for our students,” Holloway said.
To select hallway themes, Holloway looked to Georgia’s academic performance standards. He also surveyed school media specialists about the top 25 nonfiction books checked out by students. Harvey used these established themes as a base, but also listened to student input.
Ty Mock, an excited Mattie Lively student, learned of Harvey’s work at his new school.
"He was eager to share his favorite dinosaur book, and now he is working with me and a local paleontologist to make sure we include the dinosaurs kids most want to know about," said Harvey.
“These projects are a family affair too,” Harvey said.
Her husband Alan, a GSU biology professor, has offered expertise by suggesting just the right wildlife to feature and writing and editing some copy for scientific accuracy. Harvey’s children frequently accompany her to the schools while she works on displays.
It wasn’t surprising that her daughter Sarah, a fifth grader and journalism club editor at Julia P. Bryant Elementary, soon wanted to help. She was quick to point out words to her mom that needed more child-friendly choices.
“She was so good at editing, that I hired her for $5 an hour,” Harvey said. “I wanted the learning boards to be interesting, accurate, and something that would last.”
Instructional storyboards, window screens and floor tiles depict the biology, cultural history, and geology of Georgia’s and the United States’ landscapes. Harvey is gearing the projects to children. She placed boards at lower heights, incorporated touch-and-feel textures, and encased relevant artifacts. Her research for unique photographs and maps has led her to conversations with The Royal Geographic Society in England, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others. “The pieces are custom, not canned,” said Harvey.
One custom piece is an ivory walrus tusk inside a shadow box at Sallie Z. The artifact is on permanent loan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The sale and ownership of walrus tusks is illegal in the U.S. The agency and the Georgia DNR seek educational opportunities for the confiscated items to be used as teaching tools.
“It’s important that these pieces are used by students and teachers — they are not just art,” Harvey said.
“Learning goes out into the hallways and is now all around us,” said Sallie Z. Principal Todd Williford.
He’s observed students standing independently at the displays, reading and talking about them. One such example was a teacher at SZES who overheard a student using one of the instructional displays about the United States’ mountain ranges and tectonic plates to explain recent earthquake activity on the east coast to his classmate. And it’s not just students who are intrigued.
“When parents enter our halls, they have a feeling of awe,” Williford said.
Harvey’s work and new school construction are funded through Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues. The schools have also received donations and loans of artifacts by local residents and the GSU Museum. “I love being able to combine my background in biology and museum studies for this project,” Harvey said.
“She’s an amazing partner as we work to provide interesting science information to our students,” said Jody Woodrum, assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning K-5.