Students who grow up attending public school in the United States are all too familiar with the concept of a “one and done” annual visit to a local museum. This means a visit that takes up a few hours of one school day, and in many communities occurs even less frequently than annually. For the purposes of this post we will be discussing the building of relationships between schools and museums in a more far-reaching way. This means long-term, sustained collaborations that last for years and involve having museum people in schools and school children in museums for much more than a single visit. We will be exploring how museums are working to engage K-12 schools and how to increase our ability to advocate for partnerships and programming that engages K-12 school audiences.
Why is this audience important?
I have talked to many museum practitioners who roll their eyes and audibly sigh when they see a schedule filled with school visits for that day. For those that have been in the museum field for a long time, school groups do not have the best reputation as a museum audience. They are loud, messy, unfocused, and want to touch everything. However, these school groups if handled correctly, and especially if we can get them accustomed to being in museums more often, hold a wealth of benefits for museums. Just to name a few:
- if they enjoy their visit they will bring other members of their family and friend groups back to the museum
- if the experience is impactful enough, they will also return to the museum in the future
- if their needs of comfort, confidence, and choice are met, they will grow up wanting to continue to explore other museums
Selfish reasons aside, it is important to cater to this audience because:
- Students from families in low income communities face many barriers to visiting museums that include but are not limited to: time off for their guardians, money, and transportation. A visit with their school may be the only chance they get to see the inside of a museum.
- Many schools and teachers have to produce their own funding for museum visits, so finding ways as an institution to supplement this effort in any way will lead to even more fruitful relationships with schools.
Making the Grade: School Partners with Museums, Research Institutions
One of the best examples of a sustained collaboration between schools and museums are the museum schools that are popping up all over the country. Specifically, I would like to highlight the effectiveness of The Museum School in Decatur, Georgia, which is a public school and the first of its kind in the state.
- 1 of 45 museum schools in the country
- museum visits several times per month
- students get input on programs in their development phase at museums
- Decatur has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in the state, but students are outperforming other schools in their area
- it is so popular that there are waiting lists to get in
Museum Exhibition as a Culminating Event
The Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California actively partners with local schools as well as providing an enormous online library of resources that house lessons already set up to align with the Common Core Standards. A video outlining an example of one of these programs is below:
Other Examples of Innovative Partnerships
- YES: Youth Exploring Science in St. Louis, Missouri
- Grand Rapids Public Museum School in Grand Rapids, Michigan
- place-based education where the classes are held inside the museum
- part of a city-wide initiative
- Pittsburgh’s City-Wide Initiative in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- “The Greater Pittsburgh Region is developing a 21st century model to provide children of all ages with opportunities for creative, collaborative, and connected learning. Leading this regional effort is the Kids+Creativity Network, a consortium of more than 100 organizations, including university-based research labs, museums, libraries and informal learning institutions, school districts and educational start-ups, child-serving agencies, and civic leaders.”
10 Ways to Build School/Community Partnerships
- Give young people a voice.
- Plan for effective collaboration.
- Develop a shared vision.
- Establish clear roles and responsibilities for each partner.
- Engage in joint professional development.
- Blend school and museum staff in a specific way.
- Share accountability for a specific outcome.
- Engage the right leaders.
- Get help identifying diverse resources.
- Use the toolkit for expanding learning.
- New Models for Children’s Museums: Wired Classrooms?
- AAMD Showcases Creative Museum-School Partnerships in Exhibition at US Department of Education
- 41 Most Innovative K–12 Schools in America
- Building the Future of Education MUSEUMS AND THE LEARNING ECOSYSTEM
- What Does It Mean to Really Serve “Underserved” Audiences?
- Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners