St. Augustine oddities institution wants to help students embrace differences.
In the early 2000s, the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” began popping up on t-shirts and bumper stickers in the notably hip and artistically vibrant Texas city. By reframing a formerly disparaging word, “weird,” the mantra poignantly and playfully advocates for commitment to diversity and acceptance for all. While our neighbors to the north in Jacksonville have reworked the phrase to read, “Make Jax Weird,” St. Augustine’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not has come up with its own way of conveying a similar message.
Through a curriculum called “Odd Is In,” Ripley’s hopes to encourage young people to celebrate what makes us all different. Designed primarily for elementary and middle school children, the curriculum combines lessons about bullying and DNA science with introductions to some of the Museum’s most famous historical figures, like the 8’11” Robert Wadlow and Ching Shoo who was born with a blue face. Kim Kiff, General Manager at Ripley’s, says the idea for the curriculum originated from a paper written by her eight-year old son.
“The paper was about bullying and it made us think about Ripley’s and what some of the people featured [at the museum] must have gone through,” Kim says. Ripley’s founder, Robert Ripley, famously banned the word “freak” from anything associated with his work.
Kim says the curriculum has been well received and hopes to introduce it to more students when school starts back up in the fall. “Most kids want to help. They want to accept each other. I think this gives them good tools to help them do that.”