A Journey Through Time: Tuscaloosa Students Showcase 200 Years of History

Students from Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary show off their knowledge of Tuscaloosa history at their exhibit in the Tuscaloosa Through Time event.
Students from Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary show off their knowledge of Tuscaloosa history at their exhibit in the Tuscaloosa Through Time event.

From the June 2019 Desktop News | Students from around the county recently transformed Bryant Conference Center into a time-traveling trip through Tuscaloosa, showing off their skills in a project that encapsulates the city’s 200-year history.

The event, called Tuscaloosa Through Time, brought together students of all ages and schools to create displays, videos, skits, and other interactive presentations that showcase different decades in Tuscaloosa history. Each school was assigned a different era to explore, presenting to over 10,000 of their fellow students of the course of three days.

“We put together a committee, and we had participation from teachers and administrators from both public and private schools, so it felt like we had a nicely well-rounded education committee,” said UA history professor and education chair of the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial Commission, Dr. Kari Frederickson. “We started meeting as a committee, just for the expo, in December of 2017. And we assigned every school in the system if they wanted to participate, and all 26 schools said yes, and then we assigned each school a period of Tuscaloosa history.”

Each school received a grant of $2,500 from the commission, which they were allowed to spend however they needed to create their project. Some schools painted giant murals and created lifelike displays of business and house interiors, while others had interactive STEM-based displays that showed the technology of the time. While each school took a different approach to its display, they all incorporated students of every grade level.

“And then once they submitted a proposal for their exhibit, we didn’t want them to stop there,” Frederickson said. “We wanted them to show us how they were going to incorporate their period or topic into their curriculum. How are you going to get your entire school involved? We just didn’t want five kids and a teacher to do this. We wanted this to be an entire school endeavor.”

While all the students were somehow involved in the exhibition, only some of the students presented their findings to the rest of the county. Brandon Hubbard and Audrey Boozer were the centerpieces of Tuscaloosa Christian Academy’s display, dressed in period clothes and reciting information about important architecture of the time.

“It’s great seeing all these schools together and just seeing how we all come up with different concepts,” Hubbard said. “It’s like you’re traveling back in time and seeing everything.”

Madeline Herwig and Ethan Davis were two of Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School’s presenters, showcasing vintage phones, cameras, and clothing from 1960 to 1980.

“I got to learn about a new time period,” Davis said. “We got to learn about it in more detail that we don’t get to normally.”

“The coolest thing for me was seeing all the projects come together to make a big project,” Herwig said. “And getting to talk to everyone. That was fun, too.”

Although the exhibition itself only ran for three-and-a-half days, the information collected will benefit those for generations to come. Frederickson explained that, along with the exhibition, the Bicentennial commission plans to have several other resources available, including a walking and driving tour app (available on their website) and a book titled “200: A Bicentennial Artistic and Literary Celebration,” out later this year. The book is a conglomeration of 200 short stories, poems, and works of art from students all across the county.

“What was so cool was how kids from totally different schools would write about the same things,” Frederickson said. “One would write about the historic Drish House, and another would do a picture of the Drish House. So many kids, in writing poems about what they love about the city, mentioned the smell of baking bread by the bread factory. If you’re feeling worn down, sit down and look at this book. It’s a subtle celebration of community. And that’s a wonderful thing.”

For more information about the bicentennial celebration or to download their app, visit tuscaloosa200.com.