Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

Collaboration Between Schools, Parents, and Summer Programs

This common phrase, attributed to an old African Proverb although the exact origin has been lost, is especially true for youth in the summer time. During the academic school year, students benefit from both schools and families support academically. In the summer families tend to be the only source of academic progression. Evidence has been found that suggests that students tend to have some achievement loss during the summer and that these losses strongly connected to differences among families, most notably the parents’ socioeconomic status (SES) (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, & Greathouse, 1996; Entwisle, Alexander, & Olson, 1997).
            Called the “summer slide”, researchers have been studying the phenomena of students’ fall achievement being lower than the scores they achieved during the spring for the past 100 years (Cooper et al., 1996). The data from this research “by Cooper and his colleagues (1996)
estimated that during the summer break the typical child loses a little more than 1month’s worth of skill or knowledge in math and reading/language arts combined.” Middle class children’s’ reading scores remain stable during the summer months while low-income children’s’ scores decline. Their reading skill levels fall about 3 months behind their middle-class counterpart which ultimately leads to significant gaps in educational achievement between the two groups. Compared to the academic year where research has shown that students regardless of SES perform and learn at the same rate. Middle-class families tend to have more educational resources within their communities that provide opportunities to practice reading and learn new literacy skills. (Entwisle et al., 1997).  
Researchers need to recognize and address the valuable opportunities to understand the effects that families, outside organizations, and schools have on educational outcomes for low-income youth.

A few components that are related to improved achievement in summer programs:
·       small-group or individualized instruction
·       early intervention during the primary grades    
     ·       parent involvement and participation  
·       careful scrutiny for treatment fidelity, including monitoring to ensure that instruction is being delivered as prescribed and monitoring student attendance.

Issues that summer programs must combat:
·         short program duration
·         loose organization and little time for advanced planning
·         low academic expectations
·         discontinuity between the summer curriculum and the       curriculum during the regular school year
·         teacher fatigue
·         limited academic focus

A few museum programs that address the need for collaboration between schools, families, and museums are:
The Cool Culture in New York City, NY
The Cool Culture is an organization dedicated to connecting low-income families with cultural institutions in NYC. They partner with 90 of New York City’s best cultural institutions and over 450 early education providers to offer free access to NYC’s museums, botanical gardens, and zoo to 50,000 underserved families. A majority of the families earn less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Line ($23,000).

Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, WA
The Whatcom Museum offers free admission to qualifying families. Whatcom families whose children are eligible for free or reduced lunch can apply for this membership program. The membership lasts one year with free admission as well as free or reduced rates for programs and events during the year. Families must fill out an application form and provide a copy of their free and reduced lunch program eligibility notification letter. A $1,000 grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation was given for outreach and to market the program.  

Geoffrey D. Borman, James Benson, Laura T. Overman,"Families, Schools, and Summer Learning" , The Elementary School Journal, Vol. 106, No. 2 (November 2005), pp. 131-150

Where need meets Opportunity

 Addressing the needs of low-income adolescents (youth)

In her article, Jane Quinn referenced data from opinion polls “of public concern of the nation’s youth.” The polls showed:
·         A support for public programs that help schools and families provide guidance for adolescents
·         93% of parents and non-parents support expansion of after school activities
·         Over 80% would be willing to use tax dollars for that purpose
·         That parents and non-parents worry that American society does not offer enough constructive activities or meaningful roles for the young
·         60% view after-school programs as an effective way to help young people

This call for extra-curricular programming is addressed by five types of positive youth development programs: National Youth-Serving Organizations (Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, etc), Programs sponsored by Public Agencies (public libraries, parks and recreation systems), Youth Sports Organizations (American Youth Soccer Organization), Broad Based Private Organizations (religious organizations, service clubs like rotary and Kiwanis, and intergenerational programs like museums), and Independent Youth Organizations/grassroots organizations.
This blog focuses on low-income families and museums. For this purpose, I will only define the characteristics of Broad Based Private Organizations. These organizations are mostly comprised of religious organizations, adult service organizations that sponsor junior organizations, and museums. They report higher participation with youths between the age of 10 and 15. Rely heavily on volunteers and youth to adult mentoring in some form. They also encourage peer mentoring and sharing and educational enriching activities.
Quinn states that organizations reaching out to youth should support the ongoing growth process of adolescents and meet their basic needs (safety, caring relationships, and connections to the larger community while striving to build academic, vocational, personal, and social skills). Broad Based Organizations, especially museums, try to meet these conditions as well as others such as building on the youths’ strength, recognizing their need for both ongoing support and challenging opportunities, and seeking to prevent problems not fix them.

Adolescents need opportunities for:
·         Physical activity
·         Development of competence and achievement
·         Self definition
·         Creative expression
·         Positive social interaction with peers and adults
·         A sense of structure and clear limits
·         Meaningful participation in authentic work

Some Museum programs that meet the above mentioned needs are:
The Miami Science Youth Programs
The programs focus on providing low income youth with training, mentoring, work experience, academic enrichment and skills in the use of technology, while improving their communication and interpersonal skills and self confidence. The Museum's approach has led to college and employment success stories among participants. The Youth programs provided students an alternative to the streets and a new way of thinking and planning for their future.

The Lied Discovery Children’s Museum in Las Vegas, NV
The museum’s YouthWorks program has been cited as a national model program for low-income, at risk youth by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. YouthWorks combines mentoring, job skills training, homework support, career and education guidance in a museum setting for underprivileged youth. The museum’s mission to serve children and families from economically and culturally diverse backgrounds is one of the main reasons for this program. Any high school student is eligible to participate in the volunteer program. Select teens are provided with paid, part-time employment. Only teens from low-income families are eligible for paid employment. Teens must remain in school in order to remain in the program.

The best practices ascribed by Quinn are:
·         Tailor their content and processes to the needs and interests of young adolescents.
·         Recognize, value, and respond to the diverse backgrounds and experiences that exist among young adolescents in contemporary America.
·         Work collectively as well as individually to extend their reach to undeserved adolescents
·         Actively compete for young people's time and attention.
·         Strengthen the quality and diversity of their adult leadership.
·         Reach out to families, schools, and other community partners in youth development.
·         Enhance the role of young people as community resources.
·         Serve as vigorous advocates for and with youths.
·         Specify and evaluate their intended outcomes.
·         Establish solid organizational structures, including energetic and committed board leadership.

If the museum programs mentioned above continue to strive to accomplish the best practices above, they will continue to be relevant and important to their communities. Even if these practices are used by the museums they still face five major issues. The first issue is participation. Participation in youth organizations tends to drop off during early adolescence. The assumptions are that existing programs may not meet the developmental needs or interests of young teens, adolescents have more freedom of choice what to do in their free-time more than younger children, and issues with how to get to and from programs. This leads us to the next issue which is access. Factors in participation and access for youths living in low-income areas include transportation, location of services (which includes safety considerations), and whether or not there are fees for services or for required items like uniforms. Issues with access also include whether youth feel welcomed at the organization or program. Issues of race, gender, and physical ability influence how youth perceive and react to certain programs. The third issue is funding. Funding is influenced by for things: diversity, instability, inadequacy, and inequity. Due to the nation’s current economic issues, funding is not what it used to be. Organizations are now competing more for less money. They have to be sure to have a diverse source of funding and not to depend on one source because funding is not stable. Lack of money can lead to inadequate programming and inequity of program offerings in poorer communities. The fourth issue is program effectiveness. Little systematic analysis of their effectiveness has been conducted for youth development programs.  The Last issue addressed in the article is coordination with other youth services.  Youth organizations must recognize that they need to work with other community organization, especially schools.

Jane Quinn, "When Need Meets Opportunity: Youth Development Programs for Early Teens," The Future of Children vol.9 no.2: 96-116

How children's museums are reaching out to low-income youth

Engaging children is an important part of their cognitive development, but many low-income parents may not have the time, financial resources, or knowledge on how to best help their children learn and grow. Museums have a unique opportunity to help engage children and teach their families how to increase their cognitive abilities.

The Louisiana Children's Museum offers Family Camp, a free, eight-week program which teaches parents how to prepare their elementary-aged children for school. Parents learn the about cognitive, as well as physical, emotional, and social development of their children. And every week, the families receive an age-appropriate book which fits with that week’s theme!

The Miami Science Center offers a number of programs for youth to learn about and develop skills in science and technology, but the Upward Bound:IMPACT (Integrated Marine Program and Computer Training) is what really makes them stand out. Upward Bound is one of the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO programs which seeks to prepare low-income, first-generation college students for post-secondary education. In October 1999, the Miami Science Center became the first museum to be named an Upward Bound Math and Science Center. As IMPACT participants, students have after-school access to the museum where they can utilize computer labs, free-tutoring, or check out electronic equipment such as laptops and digital cameras. The program offers college preparation, weekly science programs, and an immersive summer marine program.

In an extreme example of low-income families, the Young At Art Children’s Museum in Davie, Florida has created an after-school program for homeless youth. ArtREACH (Reconnecting & Educating Adolescents through Creativity & Hope) is a collaboration between the museum, the Broward County School Board, and the Salvation Army, and is held in facilities at the local homeless shelter. Children can attend the program between 2 and 6 p.m. and participate in art-based curriculum, outdoors education, and homework assistance. Once a month the children visit the museum to participate in hands-on activities. This program offers peace-of-mind to parents and a fun and engaging outlet for children who wouldn’t normally have access to after-school programs.

These are just a few examples of how museums are engaging and educating low-income children and their families. As emerging museum professionals, how will you use your museum’s resources to help these children grow into happy and productive adults?

Cognitive development in low-income children: Why should museums care?

In a previous post  we defined poverty and low-income, and addressed some of the ways that museums can engage low-income audiences. In this post, we will examine the effects of poverty on children’s cognitive development and what that means for museums. As free-choice learning institutions, museums need to pay particular attention to how these children, their potential audience, are learning and developing, and how best to reach out to them and help them grow.  

Many researchers have found that household income plays a major role in a child’s cognitive development, but it is not the only factor. Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal found that biology, genetics, and parent’s mental health and education are also major influences on a child’s development. But income has such a strong influence because low economic status can drive a parent to stress and depression, which will negatively affect the children. Those children then perform poorly in school and grow up to continue the cycle of poverty and financial stress.

Bradley, Corwyn, McAdoo, and Garcia Coll conducted a similar study based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth which found that poverty status has a much greater effect on a child’s access to learning than their ethnicity. This study examined the differences between “poor” and “non-poor” families across four ethnic groups (African-American, Asian-American, European-American, and Hispanic-American) and found that the effects of poverty were proportional across the African- European- and Hispanic- American groups. However, the study did find that European- and Asian- American children were more likely to grow up in homes with books and musical instruments than African- and Hispanic- American children, and therefore experience greater cognitive stimulation.

So, how does this relate to museums? In addition to ethnic backgrounds, the Bradley study looked at children of specific ages (0-2, 3-5, 6-9, and 10-14), as well as the ages of the mothers when the children were born. They found that African-American children were the most likely to frequently visit museums within all age groups.  Among the other ethnicities children between the ages of 3 and 5 were not taken to museums as often as their older counterparts.    Among all ethnic groups, though, “non-poor” children visited museums more often than “poor” children.

If household income is positively related to the level of cognitive stimulation that a child receives, as Votrubal-Drzal states, then there are many children who are not receiving the cognitive stimulation that they need to succeed and become successful adults. And if Xu is correct in stating that in developed nations, home environment is much more influential in a child's life than their school environment, then museums, as community centers, have the ability to influence the stimulation that children experience in their homes. So how do museums reach families and children in order to offer that cognitive stimulation that is so desperately missing from man children’s lives?

In the following posts, we will examine specific examples of how museums are reaching out to low-income families and children.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's a Country Thing

When museums reach out to low-income audiences, they are not looking to reach just urban visitors. Poverty and low family incomes is as much or more of a concern for rural Americans than urban according to recent research by the United States Department of Agriculture. (USDA Poverty Research) In their article, Rural Poverty at a Glance, the USDA found that 14.2% of rural Americans are living in poverty vs. 11.6% of people living in metro areas. Also, the median family income is $9,000 less in non-metro areas compared to metro area family incomes. An additional concern is that in chronically poor rural communities, 45% of adults have a high school degree or less. (Carsey Institute research on Education for rural poor) Therefore, museums have a responsibility to reach out to rural audiences (and to urban audiences addressed in future blog posts) to offer support and educational opportunities.

One museum that is currently making headlines is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The museum opened in November of 2011 and has been controversial for many reasons. First, the museum is funded and backed almost entirely by Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart’s founder Sam Walton, and other foundations associated with Wal-Mart. Many critics of the museum say that Ms. Walton has used her fortune to steal culturally significant masterpieces from institutions which can no longer afford to keep them. Other critics say she is stealing pieces from their rightful metropolitan, cultured audiences. In response, Ms. Walton has stated that the people of Bentonville, Arkansas and the surrounding area have as much right to see fine art as anyone else. Also, she states that the Crystal Bridges Museum will offer access for the largely rural population that might not otherwise have the means to visit large institutions like the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to bringing the artwork to the visitors, the museum has received a $20 million dollar grant that will enable them to wave the $10 admission price for all visitors. (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art news article)

Obviously, the museum community does not have the financial capital to build a museum in every rural community, nor is it always possible to offer free admission. So what other ways can museums serve rural, low-income audiences?

One opportunity for museums to contribute is school partnerships and after-school programs. A group called Afterschool Alliance states,
In areas where prospects and resources are limited, after school programs are often the only source of supplemental enrichment in literacy, nutrition education, technology, and preparation for college entrance exams.
Rural public schools commonly have less funding than urban public schools, and therefore are lacking in basic funding for curriculum as well as auxiliary funds for transportation to museums. Instead, museums have the ability to take the museum to the students. For some, this means teacher training in exhibit materials. For others, there are mobile museums that take the lesson, objects and props to the schools. (Afterschool Alliance)

One example is the Museum of New Mexico’s Outreach Department, which seeks to bring “the resources of the State of New Mexico's museums and monuments to the public, with a focus on rural and underserved communities”. They have a Van of Enchantment, which is a converted RV with artifacts from various museums and monuments around the state of New Mexico. The Museum of New Mexico also offers Treasure Trunks, which are boxes with artifacts and replicas that can be taken into the classroom for use by students and teachers. (Museum of New Mexico Outreach Department)

Written by Jen Christensen

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Low-Income Families: A Missed Opportunity for Museums?
In 2011, over 25 million people visited the Smithsonian museums. According to a study done about Smithsonian Institute (SI) visitors, of these nearly 30 million visitors, approximately 4 out of 5 visitors are from outside of the district. Also, nearly 4 out of 5 visitors are Caucasian, despite the fact that nearly a third of the nation’s population is considered to be a minority. Within the District of Columbia, nearly 70 percent of residents are minorities, but only 30 percent of visitors from the district are minorities. Another characteristic of SI visitors is their educational background. Among DC residents who visited SI, visitors are twice as likely to have graduated from college as the general population. This information shows that museums, consciously or unconsciously, are not always reaching out to every available audience.

This blog will focus on low-income families and individuals as an important target audience for museums in cities and rural locations around the nation, and potentially the world. First, we will spend some time defining “low-income” for the purpose of this blog, as well as exploring major educational and social concerns that museums can help low-income families address.

Based on our research,  throughout this blog, we will be defining low-income as families or individuals who live near or below the poverty line. According to the 2010 US Census, 15 percent of Americans, or 46 million people, are living in poverty. Poverty in America is defined by the following:

 The Census Bureau's poverty thresholds for 2010
U.S. Census Bureau Poverty Thresholds, 2010
Size of Family Unit
Poverty Threshold
One person (unrelated individual)
  Under 65 years
  65 years and over
Two people
  Householder under 65 years
  Householder 65 years and over
Three people
Four people
Five people
Six people
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Weighted Average Poverty Thresholds, 2010, released in September 2011. Preliminary estimates for 2010 were released January 14, 2011.


As you can see, many Americans are struggling financially to support their families, and as a result have a hard time fulfilling other needs as well. For example, numerous studies have shown that students who live in poverty have lower test scores and are more likely to be involved in criminal acts and or violence, but these issues are not strictly related to lack of finances, but rather the side effects of poverty.

A recent article by Jun Xu in Comparative Education Review from August 2008 discusses that students who come from single-parent families, have many siblings, or come from lower socioeconomic status have fewer household advantages such as family class status, family structure (parental and sibling-size), and parental investment. Students who come from families with less expendable income, less parental stability, an increased number of children to diffuse the attention, or less family time because of outside constraints caused by financial or social situations are more likely to have lower achievement and educational attainment. Researchers attribute these negative affects to the fact that higher numbers of siblings reduces the amount of parental resources available to the individual child. Parental resources include time, social circles, and attention. To be successful, children rely on their parents for time and attention towards their academics, and if a parent does not have enough time or energy to devote to their child, then the students grades may suffer. This is one opportunity for museums to step in and offer supplemental resources to aid the student in attaining academic and social skills.

Keeping in mind that low-income families and individuals comprise 15% of the United States population, we will next start to look at how museums can offer assistance as well as attract this large audience in the first place.

Learning More:
Research and Article by Jun Xu on Sib-Ship Size and impact on Educational Achievement. Article
United States Census Information on Poverty

Written by Jen Christensen