Titanic relics bring past to life for young students

Though it took place more than 100 years ago, the dramatic sinking of the world’s most exclusive luxury liner can still keep a group of second graders enthralled.

Thirty-four students at Sarah Smith Elementary in Buckhead were treated to a workshop featuring artifacts from the Titanic, the British ship that sank on April 15, 1912, after colliding with an iceberg. The 5,500 items recovered from the wreck are cared for exclusively by the Atlanta-based RMS Titanic Inc., which brought a selection to the school just before the shutdown went into effect. But the event was the first of what the company hopes will continue to be traveling exhibits to school groups.

“We’ve been getting requests from the education community to do outreach programs as Titanic crosses multiple platforms, and students find Titanic a topic that resonates,” said Alexandra Klingelhofer, the company’s executive director of collections.

“We’re starting in Atlanta to hone what those relationships can be, to make sure we’re bringing what they need and to test what we’d like to do on a grander scale. And now post-coronavirus, we’ve been getting a lot of requests for online learning using Titanic as a platform,” she said.

The students got up-close and personal with a variety of artifacts, including a leather wallet, pieces of currency, a Valentine postcard, the frame of a chandelier and dishes from the first, second and third class dining rooms. The items served as a jumping off point for conversations across several curriculum areas.

“We can use these artifacts to talk about things like science exploration and oceanography, as well as complex issues that help kids understand why things happen,” said Klingelhofer. “We’ve found that particularly for 8- and 9-year-olds, this is an introduction to tragedy, survival and heroism.

They also have a lot of basic questions about the Edwardian period in general: What did people wear? What were the rooms like? What pets were on board? What did the children do?”

Much of the discussion at the event revolved around communication and the wireless system that sent out distress signals as the ship was sinking. Students worked in teams to assemble small telegraph machines and learned to type out “SOS” in dots and dashes.

“The radio was cool,” said Phoenix McEwen, 9. “You had to press it like a button multiple times to do it.”

Aryan Jain, 8, was taken with the remnants of the chandelier.

“It made me wonder how a light bulb could survive 100 years under the water,” he said. “I also like seeing the money from a long time ago.”

Jain added that he didn’t know the whole Titanic story, but he’s since been reading up on the history. He joins a legion of people across all age groups who find the tale captivating.

“Titanic is a microcosm of all things we tend to find fascinating – celebrities, immigration stories, women stepping out of traditional 1912 roles and becoming leaders and heroes,” said Klingelhofer. “And it all happened in this one ship. In addition, we have the recovery efforts and ability to see this opulence on the ocean floor that continues to bring people back to the story. Compared to something like King Tut’s tomb, it’s still something you can see and wrap your head around.”

Information about Sarah Smith Elementary is online at atlantapublicschools.us/sarahsmith.


Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.