American History can be a difficult class, especially when the events of history are hard to hear.

Shane Shoaf's eighth-grade students at Olentangy Orange Middle School have been faced with such events in their study of the transatlantic slave trade, during which millions of Africans were shipped across the sea to the Americas.

The subject, Shoaf said, is not new to the curriculum, but this year's classes responded in substantial fashion, creating a pop-up museum that fills an entire staircase at the school.

"This is very heavy, but we don't want to shy away from hard history," Shoaf said. "(Students) deserve the truth. These kids really stepped up."

Inspired by the New York Times' 1619 Project, which marked 400 years since the beginning of the slave trade with stories, data, images and more, Shoaf's five classes of American History -- 125 students in all -- participated in creating material for the museum, which includes video, poetry, drawings and quotes.

"I had the idea for the museum, but we've never done anything like this before," Shoaf said. "But I just stepped back and let the students step into roles in creating and curating it."

"We talked about that nobody lives long enough to see when patterns in history repeat themselves, so that's why we teach and learn history, and especially hard history," eighth-grader Amadou Diane said.

"When (Shoaf) first introduced the idea of a museum, I didn't know how it would go," eighth-grader Raya Reid said. "But then everything just started coming together."

"When all the work came in and we saw the amount of material on this one topic ... it was good to be able to share what we were learning with the rest of the school," eighth-grader Alex Hertzfeld said.

Sarah Fenstermaker said she wasn't sure the poetry she was writing in response to the unit would be accepted as part of the museum. Not only was her work accepted, she said, but others were encouraged to respond to what they were learning in their own words.

Shoaf said original-source documents were used as much as possible.

"We read how some slaves thought it would be better to die because of the conditions on the ships that brought them from Africa," eighth-grader Mazzy Seigneur said. "But later those same people would risk death in their hope for freedom."

Shoaf said themes of hope and perseverance emerged alongside the horror stories of slavery.

"They're seeing how inhumane it all was, but that was not the only thing they wanted to focus on," he said.

The unit included discussion of related topics, including propaganda, resistance movements throughout history around the world, and immigration and migration, whether forced or otherwise.

The study provided new connections to students' personal histories in some instances.

"My dad had to take a small boat from one part of China to another to get to the United States," Ben Tong said.

Ultimately, it was the importance of the subject matter that led students to share their work with the school.

"I'm most proud that we did this together and that they were able to find connection and meaning," Shoaf said.

"I feel like what we said and did will stick with people... learning from the past to make the world better," Ben said.

"Students have really been spending a lot of time reading and learning from (the museum)," Sarah said, "and I've even seen teachers stopping and reading."

The pop-up museum will remain on view at the school through the end of winter break.

Shoaf said he was invited to display the material again during the district's annual One Community Conference in February at Olentangy Orange High School.