Penguins in Portland: Making a Splash!

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Last April, I received a large manila envelope from Skillin Elementary School. Inside I found a stack of handwritten letters from every student in Diana Violette’s second grade classroom asking me to build a live penguin exhibit here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. Each letter offered a persuasive argument for the exhibit, and several suggested specific species and even offered tips for overcoming potential challenges. All were accompanied by colorful illustrations and diagrams.

The letters were written as part of an assignment given to the class by Amber Lane, a student teacher from University of New England. They were so convincing that I was compelled to respond to them publicly. While we weren’t to build a penguin habitat, we have opened Penguins in Portland, an exhibition of the students’ letters and illustrations alongside penguin photographs by Brian Sullivan. The exhibit will be on display in our front stairwell gallery through November 12.

On Monday, the students who sent the letters (now third graders) came to see their work on display at the Children’s Museum. While the letters were submitted by just one classroom, the entire third grade came to see the exhibit. It was thrilling to see the kids respond to their work, and to see how happy all the students were for their classmates. It was also exciting to see how much they had learned – and still remembered – from the project. As they ran up and down the stairs searching for their work, they also made very astute observations about the penguin photos!

Reporters from The Current and The Forecaster were there to document the students’ visit and take photos – click through to read their stories:

The Forecaster: South Portland students ask for penguins, get Portland art exhibit by David Harry

The Current: South Portland students inspire museum project by Duke Harrington