From Pilot to Program: Innovation in Education at the JMM

Posted on March 15th, 2019 by

In this month’s edition of Performance Counts, Ilene Dackman-Alon, director of education and the visitor experience explains how two novel ideas have become JMM traditions. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.


Tonight the Museum is celebrating. We are welcoming eager students and their families into the gallery for an evening of art and family history, representing the fifth annual presentation of My Family Story at JMM. In thinking about the hard work of our participating students, the support from teachers and administrators, and the pride and joy on the faces of attending families, it seems to me that now is the perfect time to share some insight into how we find great new ideas and make them our own.

My Family Story’s story began at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in 2015. I first learned about this international program directly from its parent organization Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, Israel. The goal of the project is for area Jewish students in communities across the globe to discover and find meaning in their own family heritage and family stories by doing research and conducting interviews with family members.  The exploration culminates in an artistic installation created by the students to represent their family’s personal history.  The hope of the program is to inspire students to think about their family’s history as a way to connect to the larger issues of American Jewish history, community, Jewish identity, and Israel. It was clear to me that My Family Story was in perfect alignment with JMM educational goals and vision and we knew we had to become a part of this amazing learning opportunity.

In order to pilot any new project, all kinds of support are needed. First, we needed a group of students to work with – middle school teacher Lizabeth Shrier at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School was willing to lead our first experimental year. Her excitement was kindled when she considered how the program could be integrated into her 8th-grade curricula, specifically weaving together units on ancient studies and art. Lizabeth brought her colleague Shelly Spector, an art teacher, on board, and they began having students work on their projects at the beginning of the school year. Lizabeth and Shelly were great ambassadors for our pilot – they were ready to work with the Museum as partners, understood the value that museums have in bringing history and culture to life, and believed in the importance of what museums can bring to the classroom.

Second, as with all great endeavors, we needed financial support. Here we have to share our gratitude for the Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund for the Enrichment of Jewish Education, who saw what we saw: how important and meaningful the My Family Story project would be for participating students. The Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund gave us the resources to pilot the first year of the My Family Story project at JMM, planting the seeds for the wildly successful annual program we know today.

One of the things we love about My Family Story is that it’s not just a local program. Students around the world participate in the collection of stories and creation of art installations, though each location designs their version of the program to best fit their resources and participants, as we did with our pilot. While generous funding and community support allowed JMM to not only host a special evening program for participating students and their families to see the finished creations, we also connected with the international level of the program with Beit Hatfutsot. Judges rate each of the projects created and choose two projects from each school that best exemplify the goals of My Family Story. Those selected projects are sent to Israel and compete with projects from all over the world. The top 40 projects are exhibited at Beit Hatfusot and their student creators are invited to Israel to participate in a special ceremony and see their work. We are especially proud that multiple participants from our My Family Story program have been selected for this top honor – including in our pilot year!

Over the past five years, the JMM has partnered with 6 different schools who have implemented the My Family Story project as part of their curriculum. Today, we are especially grateful to the Robert and Alli Russell Charitable Foundation for the generous funding of the My Family Story program over the past two years! With this additional funding, winners of the My Family Story program will get to meet and spend time with Israeli families living in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city in Israel, after the celebration at Beit Hatfutsot.

This year we are thrilled to present work from the students at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, Ohr Chadash Academy and Beth Israel Religious School. In addition to the special celebration for students and their families being held this evening, the Museum is hosting the My Family Story exhibit in our gallery for the public to enjoy from Sunday, March 17th through Sunday, March 24th. We hope you will come and see the amazing work created by these students – we know you will be moved and impressed.

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Another example of an experimental pilot whose idea was birthed right here in Baltimore at the Museum: Personal Stories: PROJECTED.

Last year, inspired by our own commitment to storytelling and helping individuals connect with their own histories, identity, and the communities around them, we piloted a program called Morrell Park: PROJECTED. Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School is a longtime participant in our museum-school partnership program, which has let us develop strong connections to the school, its teachers, and its administrators. The goals of the museum-school partnership program, which is targeted at Baltimore City Public Schools, include helping students become active learners for the 21st century, helping students build their skills in information literacy, communications and technology literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, civic duty, and global awareness. From this was born Morrell Park: PROJECTED.

Morrell Park: PROJECTED was a year-long storytelling initiative that has helped students gain insight into their personal family stories. Working closely with 8th grade teacher Danielle Bagonis and young adult author J. Scott Fuqua, students learned storytelling and interviewing techniques so they could develop the skills to interview family and community members. Film students from Johns Hopkins University assisted the students in creating their own short films using their smartphones. The resulting films were screened at a “Red Carpet Premiere” as a way to celebrate the diversity, culture, and roots of the Morrell Park community. This pilot program was made possible by an Excellence Grant from Wells Fargo.

This was a transformative experience for many students who participated in the program. In the beginning, many students expressed a hesitancy to speak to their parents and family members. A few months later, those same students shared that this project has enabled them to talk to family members in ways that they never had before. All of the participating students expressed an appreciation to the family members that shared personal stories of their past. They were also proud of the short films they created; and that they learned new technology in connection with their smartphones.

This year our kernel of an idea has blossomed, expanding into the Personal Stories: PROJECTED initiative and bringing the transformative power of this project to two schools – a new group of 8th grade students at Morrell Park and a class of 7th grade students at Graceland Park-O’Donnell Elementary/Middle School. We are incredibly grateful to both Danielle Bagonis at Morrell Park, and Amy Rosenkranz at Graceland Park for their support, and their willingness to dive headfirst into this still-new initiative. This year, in addition to once again working with J. Scott Fuqua, we have welcomed film students from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s graduate program into the project.

Each school will be having their own “Premiere” evening later in May.  Personal Stories @ Morrell Park:  PROJECTED will take place on Thursday evening, May 9th at 6:30 p.m. and Personal Stories @ Graceland Park: PROJECTED will take place on Thursday evening, May 16th at 6:30 p.m. Both of these premieres are open to the public and we know the students would love to share their films – and stories – with you. Additionally, both schools will come together at a special event in early June at Graceland Park to see each other’s’ films and celebrate the storytelling and diversity of Baltimore City Public Schools.

Pilot programs in Museum education are a way to take a big idea and start small, experimenting with a single school, classroom, or teacher. The success of our pilot programs has depended on the support of motivated teachers who are engaged with the project and who trust us at the Museum to support them in their efforts. Pilot programs over the years have taught us the importance of advance planning, making sure all our teachers and Museum staff are on the same page, and understand the project’s goals and vision. We’ve also learned that success can take many forms, and to truly get all the benefits of piloting programs, we need to be adaptable and open-minded. It’s especially exciting when a pilot program grows into a full-blown educational initiative and becomes a regular part of our annual programs calendar, like both My Family Story and Personal Stories: PROJECTED.


 

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Sunday-Funday: Premiering the Winter Teachers Institute

Posted on February 14th, 2019 by

A blog post by Director of Learning and Visitor Engagement Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.


The JMM, Baltimore Jewish Council and Baltimore City Public Schools co-sponsored the first Winter Teachers Institute, a professional development opportunity for area teachers in connection with the exhibit Jewish Refugees and Shanghai.  Teachers signed up to participate in the two-day workshop; and this past Sunday, February 10th,  we all travelled together by bus on a field trip to Washington, DC.

Our first stop was the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the US. Our teachers were invited by the Chinese Embassy to be part of a cultural exchange in connection with the Shanghai exhibit on loan from the Shanghai Refugees Museum. The embassy building is designed by the Chinese architect, I.M. Pei and features a fusion of the traditional philosophies of Chinese architecture and modernity.

We were met by Secretary Feng Haonan and his colleague who graciously led the teachers throughout the building which includes an East and West wing, beautiful gardens and large meeting rooms.

We loved gathering around the very large conference table.

The teachers enjoyed learning about the impressive art installations throughout the building that fuse together ancient Chinese art and modern Chinese culture.  The vibrant colors and designs made each artwork so unique and intricate.  Each work was created with such intention.

Our guide shows us a piece called Scholars from Thousands of Years.

The wall-sized piece in this photo is Birds Singing in a Jade Bamboo Forest, 2007.

Many teachers commented on what a unique experience the visit was, and each teacher was given a gift bag at the end of tour filled with books and tokens to remember the visit.

Our next stop was to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We wanted to provide our teachers with some background information in connection to WWII, and the rise of Nazism in Europe.  We also wanted the teachers to see the exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust, as this topic would be the starting point for our second day of the workshop that will take place this coming Sunday, February 17th.

Our teachers returned to Baltimore invigorated and excited for a second meaningful day of study when our focus will be the exhibit, Jewish Refugees and Shanghai and issues of contemporary refugees face in our world today. We are looking forward to another Sunday-Funday!

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Spring Exhibits and Holocaust Programming: Remembering the Holocaust at the JMM

Posted on January 18th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of JMM Insights is from Director of Learning and Visitor Experience  Ilene Dackman-Alon and Program Manager Trillion Attwood. Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


Later this month, the JMM will offer a series of Holocaust-related exhibits and programs. This series will offer glimpses into the personal stories of both loss and survival, inviting our visitors to reflect on the deep and lasting impact of the events on the Holocaust on individual lives and the world in which we live today.

The series begins on January 27th, the day designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations. The date marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and is set aside as a day to remember and honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the millions of other victims of Nazism. It is a day to remind the world of the lessons of the Holocaust and a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.

At 1pm join us for the first of two annual Sadie B. Feldman Family Lectures – Refugees and America: Past, Present and Future with speakers Mark Hetfield, President and CEO of HIAS and Anne Richard, former Assistant Secretary of State under the Obama Administration. This timely conversation will examine immigration in America, past, present and future through a historic lens.

On Wednesday night, January 30th at 6:30 pm we will present the second Sadie B. Feldman Family Lecture. Jack Sacco will be discussing his book, Where the Birds Never Sing: The True Story of the 92nd Signal Battalion and the Liberation of Dachau. Participants will hear the harrowing, at times horrifying, and ultimately triumphant tale of an American GI in World War II as seen through the eyes of the author’s father, Joe Sacco — a farm boy from Alabama who landed at Omaha Beach, fought his way through Europe, and liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau.

Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini closes on January 21st. In February, we will kick-off our winter/spring exhibition calendar with the first of two upcoming Exhibits that tell the stories of people seeking escape from the atrocities that followed Hitler and the Nazi regime’s rise to power.

Opening on February 3rd the JMM welcomes Jewish Refugees and Shanghai created by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The exhibit weaves together the stories of more than two dozen individuals who lived in the Shanghai Jewish ghetto. Shanghai became the temporary home to more than 20,000 Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Poland during World War II. The exhibit is on display through March 10th.

As a complement to the Shanghai exhibit, we are launching the First Winter Teachers Institute in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools. The two-day professional development opportunity will be held February 10th & 17th. The first day includes a visit to the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C., and a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to see the exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust. The second day will be held at the JMM, where participants will learn best practices and educational resources from dedicated scholars and educators. Baltimore City teachers will receive AU credit for participation upon completion of an implementation plan.

For more information about the Winter Teachers Institute, please do not hesitate to contact Ilene Dackman-Alon via email idackmanalon@jewishmuseummd.org.

We are celebrating the exhibit with a Special Members-Only Preview on Saturday, February 2nd with an evening celebrating the cultural exchange of the Shanghai Jewish ghetto. Enjoy Chinese Lion dancers and a String Trio playing Viennese music from a selection of Jewish composers. This is certain to be a special evening, if you haven’t yet reserved your seats, we recommend you do today, places are limited.

On Opening Day of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai from 11am until 3pm, visitors can try their hand creating a selection of crafts inspired for the Chinese New Year – the Year of the Pig! This is a perfect activity for the whole family right before Super Bowl kickoff.

Throughout the exhibit run, we have a series of fascinating lectures. On Sunday, February 10th we welcome Dr. Meredith Oyen for her presentation A Little Vienna in Shanghai. The following week we are joined by Dr. Kathryn Hellerstein, University of Pennsylvania for her presentation China Through Yiddish Eyes, an exciting exploration of Jewish life in China during the interwar period.

The following Sunday, February 24th we welcome local survivor Yvonne Daniel, the child of Jewish German parents who fled to Shanghai following Nazi persecution. On March 3rd, Sara Halpern will explore the experiences of Jewish families, with a focus on the youngest members, as she presents, In Their Own Words as Jewish Refugees.

We are pleased to present two films in connection with the exhibit. The Maryland premiere of Above the Drowning Seas, on February 21st recounts the story of Ho Feng Shan, the Chinese Consul in Vienna who defied his own government and braved the Gestapo to issue visas to Jewish refugees. On March 7th, Minyan in Kaifeng celebrates the ancient Jewish Chinese community. Finally, on March 10th we close the exhibit with Cantor Robyn Helzner and her unforgettable presentation Kreplach & Dim Sum. Audience members will be treated to lively stories, vibrant photos, video, and enchanting music as we celebrate the extraordinary presence of Jews in China.

On April 7th, the JMM welcomes Stitching History Through the Holocaust, on loan to us from the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee (the other JMM!). The exhibit invites visitors into the story of Paul and Hedy Strnad, trapped in Prague as the Nazis close in. Desperate to get out of Prague and in fear of their own lives, the couple send Hedy’s fashion-forward designs to their cousins in Milwaukee. Paul and Hedy perished during the Holocaust, but their memory lives on in this exhibit that includes the letters, sketches and the dresses that were recreated from Hedy’s drawings.

Concurrent with Stitching History Through the Holocaust, our staff has been busy putting together an original exhibit, Fashion Statement – that explores the messages embedded and sometime embroidered into the clothing that we wear.

Our education department has been developing activities and interactives that will encourage our audiences to connect with the people and the stories of the clothing displayed in the two Exhibits. Our goals are two-fold: we hope these activities will help our visitors to be empowered to remember the Holocaust but also investigate ways clothing can convey social status, political messages and religious expression.

We are developing an exciting schedule of programs to include lectures, movie screenings, and testimonies from 1st and 2nd generation survivors to help us better understand the experiences of those who lived through the Holocaust.

The challenging stories you will hear in the coming months through our exhibits and programs are not easy, but they are compelling, fascinating, and necessary.

We hope we see you soon. Together we can learn from our shared past to ensure the health, safety, and wholeness of the world of today and tomorrow.

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