November at the JMM
I just finished compiling stats for November 2010 at the JMM. Every month, I tally our on-site attendance with separate categories dedicated to walk-in visitors, adult group members, schools, special events, and rentals. I am now in my 9th year as “keeper of the stats” and it is interesting to compare and contrast the ebb and flow of visitation over the years as we try and track trends and determine the various factors (weather, season, new exhibitions, popular programs, etc.) that seem to encourage higher numbers of visitors. School groups, in particular, are a special area of interest. As we work to promote our programs and resources to even larger numbers of school groups, I always pay particular attention to our monthly totals in an effort to discern how we can continue to grow our program.
November was a banner month for school groups. During the month, we served 834 students, teachers, and chaperons (as compared to just over 400 last November). One of the most influential factors driving school group visitation during the month was our installation of the exhibition, A Blessing To One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People. While many groups booked visits to see this exhibition – and we also saw the number of walk-in visitors rise – Catholic schools, in particular, demonstrated a high level of interest in bringing groups to see the exhibition. During November alone, we served 606 students, teachers, and chaperons from Catholic schools and universities.
One of the challenges in serving such large number of student groups is the limited space within the gallery housing A Blessing To One Another. As many of our docents have pointed out, ideal group sizes for a guided exhibition tour is 15 or fewer and yet, the average size group of students is larger than 50. It, therefore, becomes necessary to break the classes into smaller groups and rotate each group through various stations. This also necessitates bringing on additional volunteer docents and staff to help facilitate.
On November 16, 75 students from The Catholic High School, an all-girls school in Baltimore City, visited for a half-day trip. The large number of students necessitated some creative thinking as to how we could break them into smaller groups and facilitate meaningful activities with each group. We decided to split them into four groups. Two groups were combined for an Introduction to Judaism program in the Lloyd Street Synagogue (which can accommodate larger numbers of students) where students learned about Jewish history, traditions, and customs. This station proved to be a terrific complement to the Blessing To One Another exhibition where students could ask questions and probe the significance of Jewish ritual items.
The other two groups were split between A Blessing To One Another and The Synagogue Speaks! exhibition that explores the histories of the three different congregational groups (including a Lithuanian Catholic church) that occupied the Lloyd Street Synagogue at different times in history. The Synagogue Speaks! station included hands-on interactive activities that encouraged students to work together in teams and to solve mysteries of how the building changed over time.
The program culminated with a presentation by Holocaust survivor Rachel Bodner who shared her personal experiences of life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
Through these various activities and presentations, students received an intensive learning experience that touched on many aspects of their classroom lessons. One of the teachers from The Catholic High School shared his feedback about the field trip with JMM staff: “Thank you so much for helping to plan our experience at the museum. My students had an amazing experience and are still talking about it today. I cannot express how grateful I am for the museum, you, your staff, the volunteers, and the wonderful programs that you have available. The other faculty members and myself were discussing how we can incorporate the museum into our curriculum to make it a yearly event.”
The next day, we received a visit by a joint group of students visiting from St. Frances Academy and Shoshana S. Cardin High School. This interfaith gathering of students of Jewish and Catholic faiths was inspired by the Blessing To One Another exhibition. Students were split into small mixed groups and toured the exhibition with the assistance of worksheets looking for examples of how Pope John Paul II worked towards building positive relationships between Jews and Catholics throughout his life. As I walked through the exhibit asking students if they needed assistance finding answers to worksheet questions, I kept hearing from students that they were equally interested in getting to know their peers from the other school and they were conversing about mutual interest in sports, music, etc. I took this as a sign that the program was successful!
Again, we received positive feedback about the field trip from both teachers and students. “I just wanted to thank you for the experience yesterday. It proved to be a wonderful example of Judeo-Christian camaraderie and dialogue. I thought it went great, and my students were genuinely interested throughout the visit. I could not even get anyone to admit to liking one part of the day over the other, they said again and again, that it was great from beginning to end.”
While we are always pleased to serve high numbers of students and teachers, we are even more concerned with the quality of the programs. Feedback that we receive through teacher and student surveys (such as the comments shared above) provides guidance as we plan new programs and activities. We are grateful to all of the JMM staff and volunteer docents who provided such superior service for school groups this month and look forward to developing new tours, resources, and activities in the months ahead.
While it was an exhausting month, comments from students such as this St. Frances Academy student, truly make it all worthwhile!