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Pennsylvania Museum Offers Programs for Students Online

With its doors still closed and its traditional children’s summer camps canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, a Scranton, Pa., museum decided to take its programs and public outreach online.

by Caitlin Heaney West, The Times-Tribune / June 10, 2020
Shutterstock/fizkes

(TNS) — The Everhart Museum has found new ways to keep kids and adults engaged this summer.

With its doors still closed and its traditional children’s summer camps canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Scranton museum decided to take its programs and public outreach online.

Kids can register for the Virtual Summer Camps at the museum’s website, everhart-museum.org, through June 15. A Museum Adventure Kit costs $15 and includes physical and virtual activities — the museum uses Google’s Meet platform — the children can do, with options varying depending on age. They also come with family museum admission passes for a year.

“The kits themselves will have activities that will be like step-by-step tutorials, so everything you need to actually do the activities,” said Stefanie Colarusso, director of programs and events. “The virtual experience will be discussions ... with museum educators about the collections. We’re going to have some physical art lessons online ... maybe in line with something you’re using in the box.”

Week 1, “Nature Adventure,” runs July 13 to 17 with “Butterfly Discovery on The Pamana Expedition” for kindergarten to grade two and “Dr. Twining’s Strange and Unusual Herbarium” for grades three to six; Week 2, “Art Adventure,” runs July 27 to 31 with “The Story of the Fisherman from Kanagawa” for kindergarten to grade two and “Stitching a Story: A Weaver from New Hope” for grades three to six; and Week 3, “Mystery Adventure,” runs Aug. 10 to 14 with “Magical Egypt – Animals and Insects of the Ancient World” for kindergarten to grade two and “Breaking Codes in the Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut” for grades three to six.

“As a mom, I am always looking for something to do, especially on rainy days, with my kids that are like really good photo tutorial stuff, stuff that I don’t really have to focus as much energy on,” Colarusso said. “What parents will like about this is we’ll include photos step-by-step for the kids.”

But participants don’t need to go online to enjoy the kits, which include activities such as lesson plans, project tools and supplies, and printed artwork in addition to the virtual aspects, like online field trips.

“We have a lot of families in the area that we work with that don’t have the resources available,” Colarusso said. “There’s a lot of equality issues in Lackawanna County, so we decided to make a hybrid (kit).”

The kits are valued at $90, but Colarusso said the museum board raised money to “make the kit really affordable” at $15. Some already sold out, but anyone who didn’t get one can email assistant.programs@everhart-museum.org to be added to a wait list. Those who did get kits can pick them up curbside at the museum the week prior to camp, but the Everhart also can ship them for a fee.

The museum’s programs and curatorial departments, meanwhile, already had been working together to move exhibitions online thanks to a grant for digitizing the collection and creating 3-D prints of objects. They’ve taken photos of various items for virtual tours that Colarusso said they hope to release later this summer or early fall.

“We were already thinking about how could we have this more virtual presence, make (the exhibits) more accessible to the public, how can we bring our museum into the next century,” she said.

And virtual tours could help educators whose students couldn’t go on field trips to the museum like usual because of the shutdown, Colarusso noted.

“If they can’t come to us, we can come to them,” she said.

The free, all-ages Virtual Classroom Series, meanwhile, lets the public can learn more about history, food and art via museum collections and exhibits. The classes include an instructional video, worksheets and an at-home preparation and materials list. Registration is required so participants get the URLs to attend.

The session “Small Table and Rug” ran this week and presents its final pre-recorded video Wednesday, June 10, on Facebook with a live chat on Google Meet on Friday, June 12. The final session, “Butterflies in Nature and Art” will include pre-recorded videos posted on Facebook from Monday, June 29, to Wednesday, July 1, with a live Google Meet chat on Thursday, July 2.

The videos show up on Facebook each class day at 9 p.m., and the live chats take place at 12:30 p.m. The museum also has posted past course videos on its website.

“Continued museum education is important because we want to teach (the public) about where they live and what’s around them and the history of that,” Colarusso said.

The Everhart also plans to continue offering virtual gallery talks. The first featured Ryan Ward, curator of The Maslow Collection at Marywood University, who worked with the museum for an exhibit of the collection earlier this year. The public can watch the video on the museum’s website and Facebook page, where Ward also answered questions in the comments.

“He has created about a 15-minute talk, and it really does go through (the exhibit) room to room,” Colarusso said.

Everhart staff have stayed active during the closure as well by sharing activities, playlists, inspiration boards and links to content from other museums on its social media channels. People can download coloring sheets from the Everhart website and also check out the museum’s blog, which Colorusso said “is really important to our staff because it’s full staff engagement.”

Adults, meanwhile, can engage with the museum through “coffee breaks” on social media where museum staff chat about different pieces; through virtual happy hours, which include a presentation and a chance to socialize from home; and “tea time” with museum docents.

Going forward, the museum sees activities that mix in-person and digital activities as something it will continue even after COVID-19 restrictions end.

“We really are planning to do hybrid programs for the long haul,” Colarusso said. “This is not something we plan on stopping.”

©2020 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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