Even as the Truman Library & Museum remains closed until September for a massive renovation, it remains a source of education for students.
Library employees have conducted the White House Decision Center, a popular and highly regarded hands-on history lab, at the Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple Ave., through this school year.
The Decision Center hosts student groups from around the metro area and beyond, as well as adult team-building groups. Participants take on the roles of President Truman and various cabinet members or advisers, and they have access to formerly classified primary source documents.
While a program like White Glove Wednesdays, in which employees bring out and discuss lesser-known Truman artifacts, isn't feasible during the renovation, library officials definitely wanted to continue the Decision Center.
“Right from the outset, we didn't want to lose the momentum we'd built up over a decade,” Truman Library education director Mark Adams said. In addition, competition for educational field trips can be tight, he said, and some schools have built the Decision Center field trip into their curricula.
“The trick was to try to find an arrangement that suits us,” he said.
Earlier this week, Jessica Barnes brought her AP government students from Springfield Hillcrest High School for the tenth time. Their task: how to respond to the Communist invasion of South Korea in 1950.
Normally set in a recreated West Wing, the Decision Center is in the ground-floor meeting room of the Truman Memorial Building. With built-in partitions and curtains used to create separate spaces. Students have no access to computers or cell phones, to better simulate decision-making at the time.
“All they've got in front of them are the documents from the library,” Adams said.
Barnes said she remembers hearing about the Decision Center and visited the Truman Library to learn about it.
“They hooked me on it and I found some funding,” she said. “It's an extension in leadership and decision-making, how to work efficiently and how to work together, the ability to analyze.”
As much as education has changed in even 10 years due to technology, Barnes said, “We can't forget the fundamental skills you want everybody to have.”
Adams said the library has been able to rent the Truman Memorial Building as much as needed, and with few off days October through mid-December and then mid-January into May, that is quite often. On average, the library hosts 5,500 to 6,000 students per year for the Decision Center.
Also, instead of hosting Independence School District third graders this year, the library will be visiting each of the 20 elementaries to present a program featuring replica artifacts and laminated pictures.
“Again, we didn't want to lose that,” Adams said.
The Truman Memorial Building, constructed in 1926 and rededicated in 2002, held some personal meaning for Truman, Adams points out. He returned to vote there as a citizen and conducted his only presidential press conference in Independence in the building.
The presidential library has received some inquiries about the Decision Center for next school year, Adams said, but hasn't yet started scheduling. So far, the renovation project is on schedule to be finished in September, and as teachers have four required lessons to give before the trip to Truman's hometown, the Decision Center could well be back at the Truman Library for next school year.