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Fort Worth partners with museum to serve at-risk students

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Rhonda Latham, a Fort Worth Museum of Science and History teacher, walks Fort Worth school district students through a craft as part of the Legacy Program, a partnership between the school and the museum.

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

Students across the Fort Worth school district are learning science, history and social skills through interactive lessons at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

A variety of programs serve students across the district, including the Legacy Program, which has been around since 2014 and serves four elementary schools in communities with students identified as at-risk.

“The Legacy Program is a perfect example of a healthy educational ecosystem in which a local museum and Fort Worth ISD partner to provide valuable learning experiences for our students,” said David Saenz, the district’s chief of innovation.

Every other week, kindergarten and pre-K students take a field trip to the museum.

“On the days that we go to the museum the students get a science lesson,” Melina Malavé, a kindergarten teacher at Van Zandt-Guinn told the Star-Telegram. “Sometimes it is about prairies, or the ocean ecosystem, but we always have a different theme.”

Once students complete the lesson, they have a chance to explore the museum and participate in interactive STEM activities.

“The students love that, because they have materials and resources that we don’t necessarily have in the school,” Malavé said.

Pre-K and kindergarten students alternate every other week, with museum teachers coming out to campuses on the weeks the students don’t come out to the museum.

The lessons in school, which last about an hour, focus on the scientific process and problem solving.

Program focuses on underserved communities

The Legacy Program aims to bring diverse opportunities to students that might not otherwise have access to them, said Kelly Reeder, the museum’s grants coordinator who oversees the Legacy Project.

“Certain kids and Fort Worth ISD families can afford to come to the museum and see our collections and come to museum school,” Reeder said. “But there’s certain families in our community that that is not a luxury (they can afford), so this brings that luxury to them.”

Beyond exposure to scientific concepts and vocabulary, the curriculum focuses on building social skills and team building for the pre-K and kindergarten students that participate.

“Our idea originally was to, to bring to Fort Worth ISD at-risk kids the opportunity to do engineering and science activities and the museum school curriculum,” Reeder said. “But then also to just increase their ability for communication, language, team building interaction, and those types of things, along with their science vocabulary.”

The role of the program in building those skills is heightened following a year of virtual lessons curated by museum staff.

COVID-19 shut downs delayed social skills in students

Teachers, counselors and outside groups that work with the school district have noted delays in the social skills of students following the year of virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The delays, present in younger students, are in addition to added stress and anxiety following the COVID virtual year.

Camp Fire First, a nonprofit that focuses on early childhood education, records data as part of a school readiness program each year. Between 2019 and 2020, it noticed a 10% decline in social skills for toddlers in the program and a 7% decline for infants.

Even after a year in-person, the delays are still evident.

Reeder said the delays are especially apparent in kindergartners, who would usually have spent a year in the pre-K program, but didn’t due to the pandemic.

“I can definitely see a little bit more of the struggle of working together when they don’t have that year under their belt,” Reeder said. “We have seen a delay of some of the emotional interactions with other students because last year … kids were at home, especially at three and four years old … which are crucial years to be interacting with other kids.”

While being introduced to concepts of science and history are important, teachers in the program say the expansion of social skills, such as the ability to work in teams to solve problems, are the biggest growth areas throughout the program.

Malavé, who has been taking her students to the museum with the Legacy Program since 2014, said the growth has always been noticeable — but especially following the pandemic.

“For the students to have the extra experience to go into the field is amazing,” she said. “When they go into the next grade level they are ready by just having these extra techniques and tools to help them with science and social studies.”

Malavé said the students are egocentric at that age.

“For them to learn to work as teams is very important,” she said. “We are always telling them that they are little engineers and they have to be problem solvers.”

Karen Hilliard, one of the teachers from the museum who works with Legacy Program students, said students learn a song to remember the engineering design process.

“Day one when we go in, it is a struggle for 5-year-olds to know how to work in a group of teams,” she said. “By the end of the year they are working in teams, and the ideas they are coming up with and the things they are building together is just exciting.”

“The progress is exciting,” she said.

Fort Worth school district eyes expansion of museum partnerships

Both the Fort Worth school district and the museum are looking at possible expansions of existing programs in the future.

In addition to the legacy program, which is funded by the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, students at an additional six schools are participating in other educational partnerships through the support of the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.

“We value this partnership because it allows our students to go to the museum and participate in interactive lessons that focus on problem solving and language development through inquiry,” Saenz, the innovation officer said. “These are key skills to develop at an early age.”

“We look forward to continuing and expanding our partnership with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History,” he added.

Reeder said the excitement and growth she has seen in the programs so far inspires her to see future collaborations at more schools across the school district.

“The more kids in our community that we can bring in, that is the goal,” she said. “There is such a need for developing a love of learning in general, so I want to see more kids.”

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Isaac Windes covers Early Childhood Education as part of the Star-Telegram’s Crossroads Lab. The position is funded with assistance from the Morris Foundation. Windes is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Before coming to the Star-Telegram he wrote about schools and colleges in Southeast Texas for the Beaumont Enterprise. He was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. Please reach out with your questions about Early Childhood Education. Email: iwindes@star-telegram.com or call or text (817) 668-5449. Follow Isaac on Twitter @isaacdwindes




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