History museum, Renton High School get personal with new exhibit

Renton High School teachers Derek Smith and Breanne Lawson helped students compose essays for the new exhibit at the Renton History Museum. - Submitted
Renton High School teachers Derek Smith and Breanne Lawson helped students compose essays for the new exhibit at the Renton History Museum.
— image credit: Submitted

This week the exhibit “Deep Roots: Students Explore Renton Families” opened at the Renton History Museum. It is a collaboration between the museum and Renton High School students that tells the story of present and historical Renton families.

The idea to use high school contributors started after a project commemorating Renton High’s centennial in 2010. That project concluded with contributions by students and a relationship developed with the schools’ award-winning ARROW Magazine staff, who contributed essays about what the high school meant to them.

This is Renton High School’s fourth collaboration with the Renton History Museum. The museum has also featured collaborative exhibits with Renton Technical College, Renton Park Elementary and Dimmitt Middle School.

“Our partnerships with Renton schools are win-win projects: the museum gets a unique youth perspective on history, and students have the opportunity to do real-world projects that end up in the museum,” Elizabeth Stewart, museum director said via email.

There are 79 student essays in the exhibit. Each one compares the experiences of historic Renton families with the student’s own experiences. The exhibit includes some of Renton’s founding families like that of Henry Moses and Erasmus and Diana Smithers. There are also working families in the exhibit like those of carpenter George Custer and coal miner Blaise Telban, as well as entrepreneurial families like the Stokes and Burrows families.

“All had interesting experiences of success and failure, tragedy and joy that students could relate to,” said Stewart.

The student contributors are part of Renton High’s sophomore honors language arts class.

Students researched historical Renton families, connected their lives to their own and submitted personal family portraits to accompany the historical family portraits. They learned how to compose, draft and edit for audiences outside of their high school.

“Students take away much from the project,” said Derek Smith, Renton High teacher via email. “They learn about the origins of the community in which we live. They learn about using language carefully and efficiently. They come to understand the meaning of sharing their work with a variety of audiences.”

The exhibit runs until May 26 and admission is a suggested donation of $3 for adults, $1 for children and free to children 8 years old and younger and Renton Historical Society members.

The Renton History Museum is located at 235 Mill Ave. S., Renton.

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