2020-21 Annual Fund: Reaching Students Virtually

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By: Staff, Historic Columbia

Monday, February 1st 2021

Virtual Tour

Each year, the Annual Fund supports a special and vital initiative of Historic Columbia. This year’s Annual Fund focuses on virtual programming – both through education and general events. Explore Historic Columbia’s efforts to maintain its mission in a virtual world and consider donating to our Annual Fund today. 


Historic Columbia has long made an impact on the Midlands and throughout the state of South Carolina. But during the most unprecedented of times, the organization discovered just how far its message travels. 

This past spring, while the COVID-19 pandemic was causing the shutdown of traditional learning, HC Education Manager Kelly Kinard received an email from a teacher. Nothing unordinary there, except that teacher, Melissa Bourgeois, worked at the German School – in Brooklyn, New York.  

“I was wondering if I could set up a virtual session for students learning about Reconstruction,” Bourgeois wrote. “It would be wonderful to have a glimpse at the resources in your museum.” 

What happened next gives a glimpse at how Historic Columbia’s education department adapted to the new normal. When an HC staple like in-classroom programming isn’t possible, important lessons can still be learned.  

Even to students over 700 miles away.  

Reconstruction Traveling Trunk 

What is it? 

This trunk, designed for fifth and eighth grade students, uses interactive activities to teach students about economics and life during the Civil War and Reconstruction, how Reconstruction impacted Southern society and the United States as a whole, and how Reconstruction ended. 

Kinard orchestrated a virtual tour of the Museum of the Reconstruction Era for the German School children. The response was encouraging.  

“It confirmed our suspicions that we could expand our reach outside of South Carolina,” Kinard said.  

Kinard has been with HC for three years, with the past 10 months hardly resembling the first 26. Prior to March 2020, Kinard was spending an average of four days a week in various classrooms across the Midlands. She was continuing HC’s “Traveling Trunk” program, a series that combines history and fun through educational activities and aligns with South Carolina social studies standards for a variety of grade levels and topics.  

"Our trunks are resources that teachers can rely on throughout the school year," Kinard said. "So as they start talking about the Antebellum Era and the Civil War, we're able to visit with our Civil War trunk. And then as we move on to Reconstruction, we're able to cover that with our Reconstruction trunk. As teachers move on to World War II, we have a trunk that covers that subject. We have a trunk on Civil Rights in South Carolina as well. So a lot of times we'll be going back to the same classrooms, which not only helps us build on the educational foundation created from the Traveling Trunks, but it also helps us build lasting relationships with the teachers and students."

Before March 2020, Kinard had grown the program to reach around 9,000 students, connecting to over 80 schools in the Columbia area with the occasional trip to Greenville or Charleston. The program filled an important void in the classroom as Kinard’s team saw a decline in time dedicated to social studies in elementary school classrooms. 

“We were able to explore subjects that teachers may not be able to cover, like local Civil Rights activists and South Carolina's role in the national Civil Rights movement, how World War II affected South Carolina directly, how the war and the Holocaust affected the Jewish population and Jewish immigrants coming to South Carolina,” Kinard said. “So we’re able to get into some really significant topics that are very relevant today, and we're able to do it in a really fun and engaging way that inspires an interest in history and civic engagement among the students.” 

World War II Traveling Trunk 

What is it?

This trunk, designed for both fifth grade and high school students, focuses on the home front during World War II. Using primary sources such as posters and ration books, students will consider how the lives of South Carolinians were affected by the war. They will also identify World War II aircrafts, as civilian airplane spotters in Columbia would have done at the time. An optional activity on the Holocaust and its connections to South Carolinians is also available. 

What they’re saying  

“The propaganda posters were very informative!” -- fifth grade teacher from Gilbert Schools 

“They liked seeing and guessing about the type of airplane and they liked the posters.” -- fifth grade teacher from Gilbert Schools 

The drive to continue this kind of work remained after March 2020 and the harsh introduction of the pandemic. Traveling Trunks weren’t physically going to be in classrooms for a while – but could they still … travel? 

Kinard adjusted her approach accordingly and began crafting Traveling Trunks to fit a virtual platform. Realizing the natural distractions associated with children learning from home, or in hybrid at-home/in-person settings, Kinard, accounting for attention spans, tweaked the length of the programs. She also transitioned the hands-on activities to shareable templates that encouraged digital interactivity in online classrooms, and easy-to-make crafts and games for students to try at home.  

“With the Civil War trunk, I created a how-to for them to create their own historic games at home to help replace the absence of the hands-on interactive they would have experienced in the classroom,” Kinard said. “And they could create their own ink from home with berries if they didn’t have paint.  

“For World War II, I developed an activity for students to make their own propaganda poster using a website called Flipgrid to encourage creative thinking and collaborative learning, even at home."

Five virtual Traveling Trunks have now been compiled and are available for consumption on Historic Columbia’s website. A number of schools, both local and far away, have taken advantage.  

Without classrooms to physically enter, the Education Department at Historic Columbia is still upholding its high standards and finding ways to make a significant impact on students. 

Virtual Education at a Glance 

Traveling Trunks -- on Civil Rights, Civil War, Reconstruction, Then & Now and World War II are offered online through HistoricColumbia.org/Education.  


Students and youth can experience history at Columbia’s standout historic sites through virtual tours of the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion, Mann-Simons Site or The Museum of the Reconstruction Era. All school tours align with South Carolina academic standards.  

Your support in the 2020-21 Annual Fund will help HC staff to fully transition the Traveling Trunk program to a digital platform. For more than 10 years, the program has served close to 60,000 students.