By Samantha Gibbs
This past year, staff at the C.H. Nash Museum reviewed all of our educational programming. Our regular programs presented to school, community, and university groups for the past two years had topical areas including Native American prehistory, archaeology, and African American history. The review is a step to enhance the structured educational offerings provided by staff. Because of this program evaluation, I began to reflect more on our educational goals at our museum.
At Chucalissa, the visitor is always the staff’s first priority. Every job duty consists of projects and daily routines that focus on making the museum experience fulfilling and meaningful for the visitor. A key part of that experience is education. Besides group programming, our educational offerings in the museum center around our exhibits and curated collections.
The museum began to review the structure of our educational system in the 2009. With the retirement of two long-term interpretive staff members, only four full-time staff remained at Chucalissa: the Director, Administrative Associate, Administrative Assistant, and the General Maintenance Mechanic. However, because the C.H. Nash Museum is part of the University of Memphis, three graduate students are also assigned to the Museum as part of assistantships. I was one of three graduate students offered an assistantship in the Spring Semester of 2009. Since then, all staff and graduate assistants have spent several semesters to develop structured policies for the everyday operation of the museum, including a new collections policy and scripts for all of our educational programs.
After graduating with an M.A. in Anthropology and a Certificate from the Museum Studies Graduate Program, I began as a full-time employee at Chucalissa this past October. One of my primary tasks is overseeing our educational programming that includes PowerPoint presentations and associated hands on activities, lectures, and craft activities at both the Museum and off-site locations.
Our goals in the revised programs were to:
- Create offerings that flowed from the C.H. Nash Museum’s mission statement.
- Provide insights into individual cultural traits such as music.
- Maximize the potential of the Museum’s informal learning environment.
- And create an enjoyable learning atmosphere
Since 2009, we have more than doubled the number of formal program offerings at the Museum. We also now offer many of our programs through off-site visits to schools, community groups, and special events. We have found that assisted living homes are particularly interested in inviting our staff to present the musical instrument programs to their residents.
As a team, our staff evaluated and revised all of our programs so that they meet the public school curriculum standards. We now will move into a phase of conducting more program evaluations through focus groups with teachers, museum professionals, community members, and student participants. These evaluations will not only strengthen our programming, but facilitate an increased participatory engagement from the communities that we serve.
We look forward to developing more programs at the Museum. Our staff is committed to greater community participation in the creating and sustaining the C.H. Nash Museum. For example, I am developing a project where we will work with our local adopted elementary school to build a butterfly habitat at the Chucalissa site.
Feel free to comment or give suggestions on what you think our next steps should be in our educational programming!
Samantha Gibbs, Administrative Assistant, C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa