Discovering History and Heritage: Guinyard-Butler Star Academy Visits South Carolina’s State House

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On Friday, September 29th, the Guinyard-Butler Middle School Star Academy visited the South Carolina State House in Columbia. This field study served to give the students first-hand engagement with the history, legacies, and politics that are inclusive to the overall experience of touring the State House. The day started with a brief video that presented the highlights of the State House’s origin, initial construction, reconstruction due to fire, and the dimensions, materials, and key features specific to its distinct beauty, character, and aura. Star Academy Social Studies teacher, Thomas Taylor, shared that the South Carolina State House is not only a place to introduce and pass state legislation, but it also represents much of our state’s history, and includes the art, artifacts, and statues that reflect many historical periods and events that have shaped South Carolina’s legacy.

One of the most impressive artifacts that the students observed at the State House was the Mace of the House of Representatives. When asked what her biggest takeaway was after touring the State House, Star Academy student Abigail Frickling shared that she thought how the Mace was used to light the lights in the House was pretty cool. The Mace, estimated to have a priceless value, is a symbol of the authority of the South Carolina House of Representatives. The scepter-like object rests in a rack at the front of the Speaker’s podium whenever the House is in session and is sometimes carried in processions. The Mace has been used by South Carolina legislative bodies, with some interruptions, since it was made for the Commons House of Assembly in 1756. Star Academy student Ashton Owens echoed his amazement for the Mace, and added that the House of Representatives’ chamber was impressive and he appreciated seeing where the congress people voted and made laws.

Another key feature of the “Classical Revival” styled SC State House is the dome. When asked what was the most impressive part of the tour, Star Academy student Nyzaiah Scott identified the dome. He shared that from the outside (on the State House grounds) there are only certain spots that you can see the dome clearly, but on the inside it is beautiful. Nyzaiah added that the lights, colors, and images give the internal dome an antique vibe. We observed and learned that the dome that Nyzaiah speaks to is viewable from the ceiling of the main lobby and is a false dome placed there only for aesthetic purposes. It is not the dome that is visible on the exterior of the State House. It was explained to the Star students as a cereal bowl sitting inside of a salad bowl. The false interior dome is located directly beneath the exterior dome, but is offset so as to be in the center of the lobby. We learned that the dome was a part of the 1995-98 renovation, leaving the State House in better shape than ever before. The renovations would prove necessary in order to balance the need to meet modern code requirements and improved efficiency against a respect for historic form and appearance. The structural improvements, the sophisticated electrical wiring, alarm systems, and the state-of-the-art earthquake isolators were all installed to make the South Carolina State House earthquake and fire proof.

After touring the inside of the State House, the students were given a guided tour of the State House grounds by Social Studies teacher Thomas Taylor and Star Academy Director Denise James. Speaking to the importance of the State House grounds, Mr. Taylor shared, that the State House is surrounded by many statues and monuments of significance. These include Ben Tillman, which reflects the Populist Movement, John C. Calhoun, influential in supporting state’s rights, Wade Hampton III, associated with the Reconstruction Era, and Strom Thurmond, a long-standing United States senator. The students also saw statues on the grounds of Revolutionary War heroes including Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, and Andrew Pickens as well as the African American Monument, constructed in 2001 as a compromise in the removal of the Confederate Flag from atop the State House dome to the State House grounds. The African American Monument chronicles the Middle Passage to present day and highlights important events in African American History specific to South Carolina. When asked what the most fascinating part of the tour was while touring the grounds of the State House, Star Academy student KyMani Buxton shared that the African American Monument was most fascinating without a doubt. KyMani added that the way the monument explains everything that happened to African Americans from the travel patterns (triangular trade) and hurricanes, the treatment they received at different points, their perseverance through hardship, and the accomplishments was really memorable.

When asked about the significance of the day, Mr. Taylor shared that being from Barnwell, South Carolina, it is imperative that my students understand how Barnwell (notably, the “Barnwell Ring”) controlled much of our state’s political aspects for many years. Mr. Taylor went on to add that the Star Academy field study to the SC State House is most beneficial to the students and many of the topics engaged and studied today will be used to enrich the Star Academy TCi platform/curriculum, History Alive. Star Academy student Bre’Yanna Bostic was asked what advice she would share to students who were going to tour the SC State House to which she shared that they will be learning a lot of the history that occurred in South Carolina and the many contributions made by many significant figures. Bre’Yanna also shared that students should be prepared for the size of the building – it’s huge.

The field study to the SC State House proved to be an experience that enhanced the student’s understanding of the history, politics, and progress that all function to give meaning and direction to South Carolina. When asked what the impact of this field study would be for the Star Academy Students, Star Academy Director Denise James would share the following:

Field studies are an important piece of the puzzle when molding and shaping the minds of young people. As I watched my students fully embrace and “take in” the beauty of the buildings, monuments, and the trip itself, I was moved with emotion. To witness the light in their eyes twinkle with amazement, excitement and wonder made me quickly reflect how easy it is for us as adults to forget the “wow” in the simplest things in life. South Carolina is rich with history that help shaped our nation. I am proud as an educator to remind our students through this SC State House field study, that “nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina” as a Star Academy student.

As the year continues, Ms. James has several field studies either already scheduled or in the planning phases. She looks forward to partnering the hands-on curriculum embedded in Star Academy with the experiential opportunities of the field studies and the benefits this approach to holistic education will have on learning for the Star Academy students. The efforts taken by the Guinyard-Butler Middle School Star Academy will certainly grow their students in many ways and create memorable experiences beyond their time in the academy.

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