Correction appended: An earlier version of this article stated that the new name of the Sanford Student Museum would be the Sanford Student Museum and Public History Learning Center. The actual new name is the Public History Center.
After financial difficulties struck the Sanford Student Museum, it seemed its doors would be closed forever. Then, UCF’s Director of Public History Rosalind Beiler got involved and spearheaded a project to create a Public History Center in the existing building.
Beiler was contacted in March by a community member who was looking for agencies willing to collaborate with the Seminole County Public School System to create a new space to be used by students and community members. Until recently, SCPS owned the museum and was using it as a place for fourth-grade class trips.
This week, UCF signed a two-year lease on the museum and, through the SCPS partnership, has begun plans to restructure its use. The first change is in its name. It will now be known as the Public History Center.
“There was a group of people called the Friends of the Student Museum, an independent organization that was trying to raise money,” Beiler said. “They did raise some money but we managed to create this partnership so they wouldn’t have to expend all that money.”
The building, located on West Seventh Street in Sanford, is Seminole County’s oldest school building in continuous use and is the fourth oldest school in continuous use in Florida. In 1902, the building was opened as Sanford High School and eight years later, it became a grammar school. In 1984, it was closed and eventually reopened later that year as the Student Museum and Center for Social Studies. The building itself was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 2009.
Kelli Ordonia, a second-year graduate student in the public history track, understands the need to save the building from closing down but noticed the need for upgrades immediately. Ordonia is interning with the Sanford Student Museum this summer and has been given the task of assessing the existing learning center and making recommendations to Beiler on what changes can be made to better benefit the community and the students who visit the center.
“I’ve been helping with changing the exhibits to update them and [changing] parts of the curriculum for the field trips. The initial changes were really basic,” Ordonia said. “There was a lot of clutter accumulated over the years.”
Ordonia is working on the first phase of upgrades, which will be to label the current exhibits so that the general public can enjoy them without having a tour guide.
“We’re taking over the building as it is, and our plan is to gradually redesign the exhibits. … We’re also hoping that we can integrate new media and digital media into the exhibits through various projects throughout the [next few] years,” Beiler said.
The cost of this project has yet to be released but Beiler says it isn’t about the money — it’s about the community.
“Our goal is to turn it [the museum] into a community public history center so that our students can be provided with various opportunities and community members can also visit and get something out of it,” Beiler said.
Although Ordonia won’t be an intern next semester when the actual changes begin taking place, her input has been vital to the planning that went into the decision to rent the museum.
“Graduate students have been key to deciding where this project is going to go. They created the basis of our strategic plan,” Beiler said.
Beiler hopes to use the center as an opportunity for students to engage in museum education. There will be opportunities for them to learn how to put together museum exhibits, continue preservation efforts and create oral history reports.
Graduate students in the public history track within the master’s program will also be given the opportunity to teach fourth-grade programming while student interns will be able to continue working on the curriculum and other projects to create a better experience for visitors.
“In order to train our students in public history, they need to go out into the community,” Beiler said. “… While it’s not required, we expect this to be integrated into our programming.”
Ordonia believes students will greatly benefit from the newly leased property because it will allow them the chance to get practical experience rather than listening to someone in a classroom.
“They [students] will walk away with an understanding of the Sanford area and its rich history,” Ordonia said. “This was a historic landmark. People will be able to see why these [preservation] efforts are needed and why its role in education is so important.”