Robert Churchwell Elementary's Living Museum

Experience the “Living Museum” at Robert Churchwell Elementary
Posted on 09/13/2022
Churchwell relative showing photo to student

At first glance, Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary School looks like an ordinary school. More than 320 eager students can be seen walking the halls lined with colorful murals, welcome boards and posters, all displaying the school’s values and curriculum. There’s a lot that’s unique about Robert Churchwell Elementary, though, starting with the real, functioning museum inside the school. student and Churchwell relative looking at family photo

On September 9, the students at Robert Churchwell Elementary took part in the first museum experience of the school year. Students were honored by the family and friends of Robert Churchwell as they shared artifacts and told stories and the history of their father and friend. The school, named after the first African American journalist to work for a white newspaper in the South, a Nashville native who was also a World War II veteran, lies just north of Fisk University – where Robert Churchwell was also a 1949 graduate.

During an event called the “Living Museum,” students observed artifacts from the Churchwell family, including a replica of Churchwell’s typewriter, a portrait of him drawn by his son Andre Churchwell, photos of his family and military unit, and the last edition of the Nashville Banner – the newspaper where Churchwell once wrote and where he gained prominence.

Principal Kenneth Bonner is new to Robert Churchwell Elementary and the district this year, so he wanted the first exhibit, the “Living Museum,” to be an authentic part of the school and to help him and the students become reoriented to the museum and the unique learning benefits of having it within the walls of their school.

“The ‘Living Museum’ is inspired by the ‘Night at the Museum’ movie,” Bonner said. “As a new part of the Robert Churchwell staff, I think it is important to revitalize the great museum program that launched with the opening of the school. In support of this effort, I want to provide the students an opportunity to orientate themselves to the museum by norming on visitor behavior by experiencing an interactive event.” students learning about Robert Churchwell from his son

He said the event was designed for students to better understand and connect to the name and history of the school, to take pride in being a student and future graduate of Robert Churchwell Elementary.

Three of the five children of Robert Churchwell – Robert Jr., Andre and Marisa -- spoke to the students about their father’s legacy, his adoration for his children, and his strong advocacy of education and supporting the next generation of thinkers and leaders. Pat Embry, the final executive editor of the Nashville Banner and longtime friend of the Churchwell family, also spoke about Robert Churchwell’s achievements and how he ultimately became known as the “Jackie Robinson of journalism.”

Students’ families were also invited to a celebration reception that night to view the Churchwell family artifacts. The artifacts from Robert Churchwell will be held in the school’s museum until the next curated exhibit, beginning in early October.

Robert Churchwell Elementary’s Upcoming Partnerships

The “Living Museum” is one of three events this school year at Robert Churchwell Elementary. The school is also working on partnerships with Tennessee State University, Fisk, the Tennessee State Museum and the Frist Art Museum to curate a rotating exhibition at the school every nine weeks.

Upcoming at Tennessee State University, college art students are working with the lead art teacher on bringing their own artwork to Churchwell for an exhibit that aligns with the new core values of the elementary school: commitment, confidence and community.

For the spring, Fisk University will bring a virtual reality project to the elementary students. Art students at Fisk are recording video of their art process, which will in turn be used to immerse the Churchwell students in the art process as if they were creating the artwork themselves.

Additionally, Robert Churchwell Elementary is working on creating Museum Nights for families that will mark the end of module learning.

Featured News