Posted on February 19th, 2015 by Rachel
For the second consecutive year, the JMM education department was invited to participate as judges at various school-level competitions for National History Day. For those of you who don’t know, National History Day (NHD) is a lot like a science fair, but for history. According to its website over half a million elementary and middle school students participate in the competition each year. Students can work by themselves or in small groups to research an historic topic that fits each year’s theme. They can then present that topic in a number of ways: an exhibit (the classic trifold), a poster, a website, or even a theatrical/dance presentation. A winner is chosen from each participating school, who then goes onto regional competitions, and then finally, the national competition, which is held each year at University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
The contest encourages students to develop not just research skills, but also critical thinking and presentation skills. I think it’s a wonderful idea for getting kids excited about history—since they get to choose their own topics—and to practice or be introduced to these crucial skills that are often skimmed over in schools that are strapped for resources and time.
Similar to last year, JMM was invited to judge at several of our partner schools, including Morrell Park and Mount Washington Middle. We are truly honored that these schools consider us to be such an important part of their communities!
Last year, Ilene Dackman-Alon and I both participated as judges in the Mount Washington Middle School contest, but this year, Morrell Park’s conflicted with it, so we divided to conquer. She went to Morrell Park, and I went to Mount Washington.
Being a veteran judge was helpful this time around. I remembered that I’d run out of space to write my notes last year, and so I made sure to have some spare paper to write on. The teachers at Mount Washington also found their experiences from last year to be helpful because they announced some organizational changes this year that definitely helped make things go a bit smoother. For example, this year, instead of being assigned to judge several different types of presentations in different rooms, my team of three judges was assigned to judge only exhibitions which were all housed in the gym.
It was clear that the school had made an effort to reach out to all kinds of community partners for the event, which was great to see. Just in my little team, we had an educator from the Maryland Historical Society as well as the Director of Programs at the Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL).
As always, I had a great time seeing what these students could accomplish! The year’s theme was “Leadership & Legacy”, and there were even a few students who decided to be very creative with that theme. One in particular stood out because the group decided to research McDonald’s as an example of bad leadership and legacy! Their project detailed how McDonald’s was a leader in the fast food industry by peddling cheap and very unhealthy food, which in turn was affecting the national childhood obesity rate. I was impressed with their ability to look at varied sources and to create a supportable, but still interesting, argument.
Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in my duties as a judge (it’s not easy!) that I completely neglected to take pictures!
A blog by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.
Posted on February 13th, 2015 by Rachel
This month’s Performance Counts comes from Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik!
Today is Maryland’s “Tourism Day”—an event organized by the tourism industry to make the case to our state legislators that recreational and cultural attractions have an important impact on the economy and quality of life in Maryland. In keeping with the spirit of the day, we decided to take a look at who comes to the JMM and where they come from.
This is a more complicated question than you might think; there are countless ways to categorize our guests. We usually divide our on-site visitors into four main categories: general visitors, school groups (including summer camps), public program participants, and adult groups (e.g. mah jongg clubs or sisterhood visits that book in advance). School groups are traditionally the largest segment of our visitors, but in the last two years general visitors have been catching up and program visitors are not far behind.
John Ruarah Middle School students explore The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit.
School groups come to us in a handful of main categories—public/private/parochial/homeschool; Jewish/non-Jewish; and Day School/Hebrew School. Within these groups, our single largest draw is from Baltimore City public schools, but this year we’ve had increasing success in attracting the local Jewish schools (both Day Schools and Hebrew Schools). We’ve also expanded our educational outreach in Baltimore County, and we are making efforts to recruit more parochial schools. We have even received a grant from the Delaplaine Foundation to extend programming, outreach and onsite visits to Frederick County schools. Our programs are aligned with the Common Core standards, which helps to attract the interest of teachers and principals. While we work with students at all grade levels—from Pre-K to even college level—the average group that visits us is in middle school, particularly 7th grade (when all the city schools teach “The Diary of Anne Frank”).
City Springs Elementary School students in the Lloyd Street Synagogue.
General visitors can be subdivided in several ways as well. The most obvious is, of course, geography. We don’t have data on 100% of our visitors’ points of origins (not everyone chooses to leave us a zip code), but we have enough data to give us a pretty good sample. It is true that a lot of our visitors come from Northwest Baltimore and the immediate suburbs, but there is also a significant segment from downtown Baltimore as well as Columbia, Md. We can tell when we’ve received coverage in the Washington Post Weekend section because we can see the boost in visits from Montgomery County, DC and Northern Virginia.
Many of our visitors come from a much farther distance. I love telling people that we get visitors from pretty much everywhere in the world! Just over the last year we’ve hosted guests from such far-flung and exotic states as Alaska and Oklahoma, as well as visitors from at least one country per continent (not counting Antarctica), including—but certainly not limited to—El Salvador, Argentina, Italy, Rwanda, Japan, and Kyrgyzstan!
For our public program attendance numbers, we are careful to not double count program participants as general visitors. For example, our raw number for general attendance last December was 517, but to get the right number for “on-site attendance,” we subtracted the number of participants in our programs that took place during our normal open hours, which left us with 222 as the general attendance. Our #1 best attended program in 2014 was the Joanie Leeds Chanukah concert—we counted more than 175 guests (though a few of them were in strollers)! Program attendance is probably the category with the greatest variability. Not only is it affected by the attraction of the topic or speaker, but also by the weather and the Ravens’ game schedule. There’s just no competing with football in Ravens’ Nation!
Some spirited dancing at our Joanie Leeds Chanukah Concert!
In addition to our on-site data, we also try to track off-site contacts : how many students we reach in the schools, or how many people who come to see Mendes Cohen at an event or who come up to our booth at a festival. Still, our focus is on the JMM as a destination, and that is the data that we are monitoring most closely. It helps us make sure we spend our limited resources wisely, and it tells us something about the success of our initiatives.
Posted on January 7th, 2015 by Rachel
The fantastic and thoughtful questions about Mendes and his life continue to pour in through our little question box at the end of the exhibit. Some of the questions have even stumped our Mendes experts!
Without further ado, I present our best answers to your burning questions about the Amazing Mendes Cohen…
1) To how many places in total did he travel?
This is a very tricky question to answer! First of all, if we are talking about countries, a world map from the 1830s looks very different from a world map today. Second, we don’t have all of his travel journals, so we can’t know for sure exactly how many cities he visited. Going by modern day national borders, and looking just at the travel journal we do have, Mendes visited 10 countries, but this is not a complete count.
2) What did he die of?
We don’t know exactly what Mendes died of, but he lived a long life and was suffering from blindness towards the end of his life.
Entrance to the Cohen Family Plot at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cemetery, 2100 Belair Road.
3) What drove Mendes to do all the things he did?
From what we can tell, Mendes was driven by a sense of adventure and a desire to experience new things. He was also driven by his deep belief in American democratic principles and seeing how his beliefs contrasted with the ways that people lived in other parts of the world.
Sailing Down the Nile
4) Where was Mendes Cohen’s bar mitzvah held?
Great question! Mendes turned 13 shortly after moving to Baltimore. There were no formal synagogues in Baltimore at this time, so he most likely would have celebrated the occasion at his home.
Even celebrities have Bar Mitzvah parties!
5) One of the travel documents on display is written in Russian, but the map doesn’t show him going to Russia. Where did he go that he needed a Russian travel document?
We have travel permits and customs documents that would put Mendes in Russian cities such as Odessa and St. Petersburg during the summer of 1833. However, we do not have all of his travel journals, so we don’t have much detail about his journeys in that region. Our map is based upon the travel journal that we do have, which is why Russia is not included.
European Russia 1833: Stieler, via.
6) Are the current movie-making Cohen’s related?
Perhaps you mean the Coen brothers? Apparently there are about 100,000 people currently living in the United States with the last name “Cohen,” so I doubt that Mendes is related. We are also pretty certain (though not 100% certain) that there are no living descendants of his family tree.
The Coen Brothers
What questions were still burning in your mind when you got to the end of the maze?
Let us know!