A Firsthand Connection

Jul 2, 2019

Blount Home Education Association Enrichment Program

Rebecca Sardella, a history teacher with the Blount Home Education Association co-operative enrichment program in Blount County, Tennessee, has always known about the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. The history-packed museum is located in Sardella’s hometown, Sevierville—and she even worked there as a research specialist, exhibit designer, volunteer and education coordinator!

When Sardella wanted to share her deep passion for history with her home-educated enrichment program students, she knew exactly where to take them.

“I love to plan meaningful field trips for my students to help history come alive,” said Sardella, who has been teaching with the program for four years and home-educates her own child.

Over the years, Sardella estimates she’s taken more than 150 students, ranging from fifth grade through 12th grade, to the museum. The venue offers visitors a firsthand look at artifacts and memorabilia from various eras of aviation and military aviation history.

This is no ordinary museum.

“Many of our volunteer docents are veterans, from every branch of the Armed Forces,” said Rhonda Melton, Operations Coordinator, Tennessee Museum of Aviation.

“Student groups will have the experience of walking through the museum with a veteran, who is more than willing to share not only their knowledge of aviation but their personal experiences as well—insight students will probably never read in a text book.”

Melton stresses that the museum’s docents are the connection to the missing pieces of history, whether by personal experiences or the fact that they’ve lived through these historical events.

Sardella notes her most recent visit to the museum was a breeze, thanks to the passionate and knowledgeable staff who go above and beyond to make every outing an enriching and educational experience. Unsurprisingly, her students were in awe the whole time.

“They absolutely loved seeing the interesting artifacts in the exhibit space and seeing the aircraft that live in the hangar. Knowing that some of these aircraft still fly was a definite added bonus to their visit!”

The museum’s 35,000-square-foot hangar features aircraft engines and cockpits, military vehicles, and magnificently restored vintage “Warbirds” to pique the interest and curiosity of its guests.

“The two Republic P-47 Thunderbolts will almost certainly leave a sense of admiration, as there are less than a dozen of these World War II fighters remaining in the world—and the Tennessee Museum of Aviation has two airworthy ones in their collection,” said Melton. “We also have a Douglas A-1H Skyraider, another outstanding airworthy aircraft complete with battle scars received from its service during Vietnam.”

If viewing these storied and remarkable aircraft wasn’t already enough, students also got to take part in a fun scavenger hunt while exploring the rare and detailed exhibits—an added bonus that the museum coordinates beforehand to help visiting teachers expand their specific lessons during the tour.

Meeting and being able to converse with veterans who saw with their own eyes the events students are learning about in their textbooks is a huge reason why Sardella keeps coming back to the museum.

And she appreciates that hearing from those who’ve experienced this world is consistently her student’s favorite part of the trip.

“My students really enjoyed hearing the stories of the veterans while also learning about aviation history.

“The museum helps them do just that.”

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Teach & Travel.

This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel.

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Museum of Aviation.