At York Middle School, special needs teacher Michele Alston loves history and museums. Principal Louvetta Dicks does, too.
Alston's students in the seventh and eighth grade - nine of them - love history and museums, too.
But instead of field trips to museums this school year, these nine special kids in the seventh and eight grades - Andrew Gore, Akem Collins, Kristofer McLamb, Zyion Burris, Whitney Strong, Michael Long, Gary Good, Joshua Brown and Melissa Bond - went one better.
They made their own museum.
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"We made a history museum," said Gary Good, a 16-year-old student with a smile that never stops.
Actually, these kids made two museums.
In a back building at the school near their classroom, in a class project that started at the beginning of the school year more than six months ago, the students built a museum of South Carolina history.
And in an adjoining room, the students built a museum of black history for February's Black History Month.
Alston and teaching assistants Patty Dover, Vickey Powell and Gary Black helped the students - but the students had a hand in everything.
What to put up, how to display it, writing out explanations that tell people who wander through the displays what is going on in a picture on the wall or on a table or in a three-dimensional display.
And what is going on is not just two museums, but a celebration of the achievement of students in special needs classes who have done something special for sure.
"It is just plain phenomenal," said Dicks, in what is certainly an understatement. "The entire school is so proud of what has been accomplished here."
On the Black History Museum side, the walls are filled with materials that Alston has collected during her lifetime. But the students put up the displays and researched class projects on black achievers.
There are displays for authors, inventors, celebrities and others, with pictures and explanations and more.
Through the door in the next room is a museum with displays from all 46 counties in South Carolina. The students wrote letters to the chambers of commerce in each county, asking for brochures and reference materials.
"When the mail started coming in, and the materials were here and the work could start," Alston said, "that is when the students truly became excited and the project gained momentum."
The students made displays of Native American tribes, colleges throughout the state, recipes specific to South Carolina, and all kinds of other great stuff.
Student Akem Collins, 14, even drew pictures to show ironwork from Charleston's past.
"It was fun to learn," said Collins. "Fun to do it, too, to build it."
And the museums were more than just a class project. They were integrated into the curriculum that these kids are learning before they head off to special needs classes in high school, and involved detailed lessons in history, English and science.
Alston's work on the project, after seven years of dedication to special needs students in York, earned her the teacher of the year honor for the school.
"I can't think of anything I would rather do than work with these wonderful students," Alston said.
The museums show that creativity and inspiration from teachers and students working cohesively can produce outstanding, innovative results, Dicks said.
In York, those results are two walk-through museums, built by a teacher and three assistants and nine students - including one confined to a wheelchair - who through this whole year have never used the following word.