Museum and Schools

Creating Successful Community Collaborations

03/31/2010  |  DENA BUSH
historic places

The West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc. (WFHPI) announces its second annual regional conference, “Celebrate Our Civic, Community and Cultural Heritage,” to be held in Historic Pensacola Village on April 24, 2010.

Historic Pensacola Village is a museum complex located in the heart of downtown Pensacola, which hosts tens of thousands of students on annual field trips each school year. WFHPI education staff consistently seeks ways to enhance visitation, especially during the current economic climate and in an environment of high-stakes testing. I am sure that schools and other museum sites throughout the country find themselves in similar situations. How can we meet our operational goals while facing these mounting obstacles?

I challenge school teachers and administrators to view their local sites as more than field trip destinations. Regional historic sites, museums, zoos and parks offer ideal ways to incorporate creative interdisciplinary instruction that will meet high-stakes curriculum goals.

As a museum educator, I feel the answer is found in inspired collaborations between sites and school districts. This second annual conference is an example of how WFHPI has partnered with the local school district to bring teachers and students to our site while also addressing the needs of the school district. The conference experience provides professional development opportunities for teachers and enables them to network with fellow colleagues. In return, the conference brings teachers, and consequently students, to our site and promotes awareness of our organization and educational programming.   

The catalyst for the inaugural conference of 2009 was Pensacola’s 450th anniversary, which received international attention with a visit by the Spanish monarchy. It was the vision of a committee of educators, WFHPFI staff, and members of the community to provide a venue for educational training, informational lectures, and instruction for local educators and history enthusiasts. The theme of the first conference emphasized Pensacola’s anniversary and the colonial history relating to the 1559 Don Tristan De Luna settlement.

Pensacola is North America’s oldest settlement, predating Spanish St. Augustine by six years and British Jamestown by almost half a century. The purpose of the first conference was to highlight this often overlooked aspect of Florida history, and its significance to broader American history. The 2009 conference was attended by local educators, the Escambia County School Superintendent, representatives from the Florida Council for Social Studies (FCSS), the Escambia Area Council for Social Studies, the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, and Alpha Delta Kappa (International Honorary Organization for Women Educators).

The positive response by participants of the 2009 conference was overwhelming. One educator commented, “This was a great learning experience. Every presenter was enthusiastic, prepared, and shared interesting information. I learned so much and can’t wait to go back to the classroom to share with my students.” Another educator voiced the sentiments of many participants in asking for another conference with this comment, “Loved it. Could we do this every year and expand to include additional social studies topics?”

WFHPI determined to take up this charge, deciding to create an annual, one-day, regional conference; however, we learned from experience that you need to anchor collaboration with a focus or theme that addresses a particular need, such as the significance of Pensacola’s 450th anniversary in 2009. This year’s conference will better equip educators to focus on civics education. The current 2010 conference will provide teacher support for curriculum that will be reinforced in subsequent school years.

In recent years, the need for civic education and engagement is more evident than ever. According to a 2009 report released by the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, the state of civic culture in Florida is in poor condition and failing. This is attributed to various factors, such as high-stakes testing that obligates educators to regularly limit civic education, the current economic climate that adversely affects the state budget, charitable giving and involvement, and a younger generation that is increasingly becoming more detached from political institutions and the democratic process.

Most state leaders agree that civic education is essential to insuring the future strength of American values and practices. Recognizing this need, I realized that community collaboration between our site and the school district is an influential way to address civic education.

Co-Leaders of the 2010 conference are Ms. Cherie Arnette, Escambia County Social Studies Specialist and FCSS Board Member, Mrs. Connie Brown, FCSS District 1 Board Member, and myself. Together, we will provide sessions and opportunities highlighting civics education for the professional development of regional teachers, assisting them in understanding the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in Social Studies. 

I believe the key to reaching out to local students and educators is communication and networking with local schools, teachers and administrators. I challenge school teachers and administrators to view their local sites as more than field trip destinations. Regional historic sites, museums, zoos and parks offer ideal ways to incorporate creative interdisciplinary instruction that will meet high-stakes curriculum goals. Call the site educators and discuss your needs. This leads to dialog, which reveals a need, and fosters brainstorming of how to make connections.

It must also be emphasized that education outreach will be more successful if spearheaded with the support of school district administrators such as principals and social studies specialists. For sites, this will ensure that your efforts meet current curriculum needs for teachers and will attract participation. Communication with local school district officials will also help to anticipate and plan for upcoming needs and curriculum demands. 

I encourage all parties to look beyond the obvious point of contact between sites and schools — the annual field trip. In order to enhance our mission, museum staff must be willing to reach out and determine how our individual sites might meet the evolving needs of teachers and schools.

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Dena Bush is a Museum Educator with the West Florida Historic Preservation, Inc..

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