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Stephanie Raper
In the Loop Editor

Kidzeum Changes Guard

Grenada Elementary School counts The Kidzeum as one of its most notable assets. The famed kids’ museum brings exhibits to children that reach far beyond the classroom. Each display strives to capture the joy of learning by doing; providing a hands-on learning experience that makes students clamor for more! The Kidzeum, built in 1995 along with the new GES building, exists due to the persistence of current director Eloise Portera.

Portera became a fan of children’s museums during many family vacations. She remembers,”When I vacationed with my husband and four children, we always looked for children’s museums to visit. Our kids loved them so much that I wanted all Grenada children to have that opportunity. At the time, the closest children’s museums were in Memphis and New Orleans. I felt that our hometown kids deserved the same advantages as those big city kids.” Portera inundated GSD Central Office with talk of a children’s museum. From there, she went on to address then Superintendent Dr. Buddy Pender and Assistant Superintendent Billy Collins. In 1995 the Board of Trustees brought The Kidzeum to life by allotting space for the museum in the new Grenada Elementary School. Portera was appointed as the director of the museum, and The Kidzeum became the first, full-scale, rural elementary school museum in the United States. Portera credits the staff of The Kidzeum, Frankie Heath and Scarlett Smith, for their roles in creating the exciting, interactive learning environment of the museum. Since opening, Portera and the staff have worked with 14 other schools throughout Mississippi to establish hands-on learning centers.

“Celebrations!”, Portera’s favorite exhibit during her tenure as director, exposed children to the everyday lives of children in Brazil, Kenya, and Japan. Since today’s children will eventually compete for jobs in a global marketplace, Portera believes they should develop an understanding and appreciation of other cultures. During visits to “Celebrations!”, GES students began to see that in our world people are more alike than they are different.

While assisting other schools and bringing the world to the students of GES, The Kidzeum garnered many awards and accolades including:
• BusinessWeek magazine’s award for “A Break the Mold School – The Top Rural Elementary School in the United States” (1995)
• American Association of School Administrators 2000 Leadership for Learning Award
• Presentations at the 2000 International Symposium of Partners in Education in Houston, Texas
• National School Board Association MAGNA AWARDS 2002 Winner
• Governor’s Award for Outstanding School-Community Partnerships
• Mississippi Education Forum Award for Excellence in Education
• Workshops presented at the Canadian Science Teachers of Ontario Association Conferences
• Presentations at the National School Boards Association and at the National Science Teachers Association
• Featured article in Association of children’s Museums FORUM newsletter, 2007
• $1000 grant - Daily Sentinel Star
• $2500 grant – Mississippi Fish and Wildlife, 2008

In July 2010, Portera received one of six Grosvenor Teacher Fellowships. The Fellowships honor National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor and are awarded to the top six teachers in the United States who demonstrate excellence in geography education. The Fellowship allowed Portera to explore the Arctic Svalbard aboard the National Geographic Explorer. The journey took her within some 500 miles of the North Pole where she experienced glaciers, wild polar bears, walruses, and some of the largest whales on Earth.

At the end of this school year, Portera will step down as director of The Kidzeum and pass the reins to its new director, Beth Muselwhite, a current LEAP instructor at GES. Portera commented, “Beth has the drive and commitment to do whatever it takes to give our students the best educational opportunities available. I have complete confidence in Beth’s abilities and am honored that she will continue The Kidzeum philosophy of hands-on learning.”

Muselwhite is a seventh generation Grenadian. She is married to David Muselwhite and they have two children who attend GSD schools. Muselwhite holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education from Delta State University and a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from Mississippi State University. She is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher with 21 years of teaching experience ranging from Kindergarten to seventh grade.

Muselwhite also serves the GSD as a member of the Progress Monitoring and Universal Screening team, the Beautification Committee, and the Partners in Education committee. She has served as co-editor of the GES yearbook, and co-chairman of the School Improvement committee. She currently serves as co-chairman of the Reading and Science fairs at GES.

Muselwhite has a passion for teaching and encouraging children to discover and learn through hands-on experiences. “I am honored to have received the position of Director of The Kidzeum. I look forward to continuing the exemplary job that Eloise Portera has developed there for the children of the Grenada Elementary School. I will strive to continue creating stimulating exhibits in which students will learn and take information with them throughout their life times.”