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Artifacts on display at the Penn Museum Credit: Mariana Gonzalez , Mariana Gonzalez

Seventh grade hands shot up with each of the museum instructor’s prompts at the “mummification workshop” offered at the Penn Alexander school. “Yeah! I love dead guys!” shouted one student. There was a chorus of agreement.

The workshop is part of a free program called “Unpacking the Past” offered by the Penn Museum. The museum is partnering with the School District of Philadelphia, as well as with schools in the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and Mastery Charter Schools to further integrate Penn into the city surrounding it.

The program will help students “find out more about the world and about themselves,” said Jannie Blackwell, councilwoman for the 3rd District of Philadelphia . She delivered remarks at the unveiling ceremony for the program Tuesday morning alongside Penn President Amy Gutmann and Superintendent of the Philadelphia school district William Hite Jr. Hite cited the program as an opportunity to “take advantage of a rich cultural environment,” also stressing the importance of its cost-free status.

Unpacking the Past involves a classroom outreach session, which brings “mummy mobiles” to participating schools and delivers an anthropology and archeology lesson. Students later take a free trip to the museum for an interactive workshop, and the program culminates in a final project showcase, said Ellen Owens, director of learning programs at the Penn Museum. Students can show their relatives and friends what they learned and built, and their families are additionally rewarded with a free year-long museum membership.

Hopefully, students will be taught “basic deduction skills” through activities like these, Owens said, and learn “to tell things with their own eyes.”

The program will also be supplemented with professional development sessions for teachers that allow the teachers to go behind the scenes at the museum. “It’s not often that a seventh grade teacher has access to an expert Egyptologist,” she said.

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