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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Capturing Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini by the Numbers

Posted on February 15th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts is from School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


“[It] Opened my eyes to the many things I never knew about Harry Houdini. Best of all, it showed that he was a smart man, along with his star power.” – Comment left in our Visitor Feedback Book for Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini

 

It is no illusion that Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, a JMM original exhibit, captured the attention of many while on display for the past six months (June 24th, 2018 to January 21st, 2019). In fact, over 8,900 visitors came to experience this magical exhibit. So now, after the exhibit has hit the road – next appearing at the Breman Museum in Atlanta and then, if things go according to plan, at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, let’s look at some of the numbers that capture this monumental success.

Of the 8,900 people who visited, general attendance made up 4,600 of these visitors (that is, individuals who did not come as a part of a school group, adult group, or for a public program). You may have been one of the many Houdini enthusiasts, magicians-in-training, history lovers, or those learning for the first time that Houdini was Jewish, who joined us to explore Houdini’s life and legacy. In fact, you may have been part of the 58% of people who visited the JMM for the first time during this exhibit! If so, welcome! Please come back and see what we have in store next.

Visitors Immersed in the history of Houdini

People came from all over the world, including Ireland, Australia, Mexico, and Japan. While only 2% of our visitors were from other countries, this exhibit captivated our home audience, with 72% of people coming from Maryland and 26% from other States.

Dai Andrews performing a great escape at the Magic of Jonestown Festival in July (Photo by Will Kirk).

From films and book talks to escape artists and magicians, the Museum hosted an array of Houdini-related public programs for 1,900 visitors. Highlights included the Magic of Jonestown Festival, the 91st Official Houdini Seance hosted on Halloween and A Fantastical Farewell to Houdini where Magician Brian Curry performed to a standing room only crowd of 180 people.

A Fantastical Farewell to Houdini. Brian Curry and audience assistant performing for the crowd.

Thirty-eight public, private, and Jewish schools and camps made up of over 1,800 students, teachers, and chaperones who visited to learn about the story of young Erik Weisz immigrating to the U.S and transforming himself into Harry Houdini. Students worked together to crack the code and reveal one of Houdini’s famous illusions — the disappearing elephant. They were immersed in a personal story of immigration, the performing arts, and the technologies and entertainment trends surrounding the turn of the 19th century.

Students from the National Academy Foundation tried out the Spirit Photograph to see if Houdini would appear during their visit in October.

Students didn’t just engage with Houdini while at the JMM, over 2,400 students, teachers, and chaperones had a visit from Harry Houdini himself at their school or camp. David London, magician and guest curator of the exhibit, performed as the Museum’s newest Living History Character. Harry Houdini didn’t just perform for schools, he also entertained adult groups and public programs at the JMM, performing 27 times for over 3,100 audience members in total. This dramatic performance hasn’t come to an end yet. Just as Houdini’s legacy lives on, our Living History Character of Harry Houdini has another 9 performances scheduled before the end of April.

250 campers at Habimah Arts Camp waited for Harry Houdini to take the stage at one of his many performances at Jewish Camps and Schools. 

David London Performing as Houdini at the JMM.

Schools were not the only groups enjoying the opportunity to try out some of Houdini’s magic tricks on display, 640 attendees from 39 adult groups explored the hands-on illusions and rare artifacts on display.

Residents from Brightview enjoyed a tour by our Director of Learning and Visitor Experience, Ilene, in July.

With numbers like these, it is no surprise that the month of December 2018 was the highest single-month onsite attendance in the last seven years with 1,909 visitors to the Museum.

While these numbers are incredibly thrilling for those of us who are data-lovers, it’s what you, the JMM visitor, had to say about the exhibit that really hits home. At the JMM, we share stories to inspire, to create conversations, and to empower you to discover something new. One visitor shared, “the connection between Houdini’s popularity and immigrant striving is a well-done story.”

We aim to create memorable experiences and it is truly exciting when we inspire action. That is why this comment left in our visitor feedback book is a favorite:

 “I really enjoyed what I read and the interactive play of tricks. I am from Appleton, Wisconsin, and will now visit the Houdini Museum in my town.”

Whether it was trying out magic tricks from Esther’s Place, conducting more research on Harry Houdini after your visit, sharing something new your learned with a friend, or visiting another Museum (or coming back to visit us again!), we hope that Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini was not just a success as determined by the numbers, but a memorable experience that inspired you after your visit.


 

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New Faces and New Spaces

Posted on January 11th, 2019 by

This month’s edition of Performance Counts comes from Deputy Director Tracie Guy-Decker. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts by Tracie, click here.


This January, as we say goodbye to Harry Houdini, I thought we should also take a few moments to say hello to some of the newer members of the JMM team and to acknowledge the new(ish) roles some of our number are enjoying.

The newest member of our staff, Emma Glaser, is not entirely new to the JMM. Emma Glaser (pronounced GLAZE-er) interned with the JMM Education Department in the summer of 2014. Emma graduated from Smith College, and completed graduate work at the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum Studies at SUNY Oneonta. In addition to her time with us in 2014, Emma interned at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

Emma started as the Program Assistant back in September. In that role, she is helping to plan and execute events and programs for students and adults. She masterfully guided JMM’s mitzvah day celebration to fruition, and has been an important addition to the JMM team. If you haven’t yet had a chance to meet Emma, please say hello next time you’re in the building.

Emma’s position, Program Assistant, was made possible by the promotion of our Program Manager, Trillion Attwood. Trillion has been skillfully orchestrating our top-notch programming since 2013, though Trillion didn’t always want to be an event planner. With degrees in Egyptology, Trillion, like so many among us, is a tried-and-true Museum professional.

When, in this fiscal year, we wanted to create a new position, Curatorial Assistant, to provide additional skills and support to the collections and exhibits team, we saw an opportunity to serve the Museum’s needs while providing more and different challenges for Trillion to use her skills. As of this fiscal year, Trillion is both Program Manager AND Curatorial Assistant. While her colleagues (guilty!) often forget which hat she is wearing on which day, Trillion has been splitting her time 50/50 between event planning and collections and exhibit management. She even has two email addresses!

Speaking of promotions, we recently were delighted to offer a brand new position to a very capable member of our staff. If you’ve visited the JMM in the past year, you’ve met Paige Woodhouse. Paige has been our exceedingly talented Visitor Services Coordinator since October of 2017. In that time she has worked wonders in cleaning up our procedures and our communications channels. Everything she does she does with an air of professionalism and cheerfulness that is noticed by her colleagues and her customers alike.

When, through the generosity of the Cohen Opportunity Fund of the late Suzanne Cohen (z’’l), JMM was able to create a new School Program Coordinator position, Paige decided to apply. Though she had some stiff competition from a number of highly-qualified candidates, Paige was offered and accepted the position – a promotion – and will transition into those duties as soon as we are able to find a successor for her in the Visitor Services position.

This is an exciting time at JMM. In addition to our future evolution, which will have a much more visible manifestation in bricks and sticks, we are already growing and adapting. Welcoming new staff–and new responsibilities for existing staff–is an important part of the organization’s progress.

Please say hello to Emma and “Mazel tov” to Paige and Trillion next time you’re in the building. And please stay in touch. These are exciting times in Jonestown. You don’t want to miss it!

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