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Heroes and monsters: experiencing the classics

For many professors at Washington University in St. Louis, the passion they have for their area of study started at a young age. A simple experience along the way caught their interest, and that interest stuck.

Professor Timothy Moore in the Classics Department in the School of Arts & Sciences says that middle school is that optimum time to capture the interest of students. That is why in February, Moore and his PhD students, Constantine Karathanasis and Joe MacDonald, along with retired St. Louis teacher Jayne Hanlin, spent the morning with a group of students from KIPP Triumph in St. Louis to teach them about their area of expertise: Greek and Roman culture.

“It seemed to me that they were enchanted by the experience,” Moore said. Throughout the morning, the students wiggled with excitement as they listened and learned about the heroes and monsters of Greek mythology. When Moore asked if the students could name the father of the gods, hands shot up, dancing in the air and begging to be called on.

Students from KIPP Triumph acted out a story from Greek mythology during their visit with the Classics Department. (ISP Photo: Barajas)
Students from KIPP Triumph acted out a story from Greek mythology during their visit with the Classics Department. (ISP Photo: Barajas)

Moore said that the classics are so important in that they teach skills like language and critical thinking that can be widely applied, but that often students miss out on having these experiences.

“Greek and Roman cultures have something to offer everyone,” Moore said. “However, underserved students are the least likely to get this exposure.”

This fact sparked Moore’s search for opportunities to partner with local schools and led to his initial connection with the Institute for School Partnership (ISP) at WashU. The ISP works with educators and districts across the St. Louis region to connect the resources of the university and the expertise of its faculty with the needs of the schools.

“Our biggest challenge is connecting with schools,” said Moore. However, because of the role of the ISP and the university’s charter school sponsorship, the stars aligned to make the event with KIPP possible.

Chris Mohr, the laboratory and project manager at the ISP, coordinated the program along with Cheryl Adelstein, the assistant vice chancellor of community relations & local government affairs and the university liaison to KIPP St. Louis, and the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.

Together, the team crafted a journey through the arts, allowing the students to explore both the Kemper Art Museum and the world of Greek Mythology.

“It is such a pleasure to work with campus partners like Professor Moore and the Kemper Art Museum,” Mohr said, recognizing that without the help of every stakeholder, programs like these would not be possible.

“Diving into the world of heroes and monsters that you find in the classics is the perfect way to engage students in a discipline that is so well-rounded,” Mohr said. “Perhaps, this will be the experience that sparks the interest of a future humanities scholar.”

March 2016 | by, Gennafer Barajas

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