Narrator: This podcast is a project of the Mass Cultural Council. We believe in the power of culture, the arts, humanities, and sciences to enrich communities, advance equity, and foster creativity.
Christina Turner: The culture piece of our program is one third of the work that we do. The learning, the museum, the history part, but there’s also this personal professional development. There’s this college and career readiness piece as well. And all of that combines really to balance our program.
Anita Walker: Hi, I’m Anita Walker, executive director of the Mass Cultural Council and welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. Our guests today are from the New Bedford Whaling Museum and joining us are Sarah Rose, who is vice president of education and programs and Christina Turner, director of apprentices and interns. And welcome to our program.
Sarah Rose: Thank you for having us.
Christina Turner: Thank you. Good morning.
Anita Walker: You have quite a bit of experience working with young people throughout the community, bringing them into the museum, not just to take a tour and to learn from the exhibitions, but to kind of run the place. Tell us about your program.
Christina Turner: Well, the apprenticeship program really seeks to provide resources and supports and experiences for high school students in the City of New Bedford, specifically that deepen community engagement, promote personal-professional development as well as cultivate college and career readiness. And we do this in a number of different ways. Specifically, we work with first-year students who started the summer after their ninth-grade year in high school and we continue with those students all the way until they’re seniors in high school.
Anita Walker: So, give me an example of what they might be doing on any particular day at the museum.
Christina Turner: Well, in the summer, our ninth-grade students are really learning about the museum itself and the history of the city. So, they are working with museum professionals, going to the different galleries, learning about the exhibitions. They are learning about the science of whales and whale biology. They are learning about New Bedford as a center of the Underground Railroad. And then they’re taking all that information and then eventually, with practice and much more practice, leading tours of the space for the public, their families, and for other museum professionals as well.
Anita Walker: So, they really do get a sense of ownership of the museum which is really sort of an anchor and iconic institution in New Bedford. That must mean a lot to them and their families.
Christina Turner: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think one of the biggest things that students say after they’ve gone through this process of learning about the museum is how much they feel more confident and comfortable they feel in the space and being able to deliver that information, but also invite others in to take part in that information as well.
Anita Walker: So, give us a story or two about some of the young people you’ve worked with and how it’s changed them.
Christina Turner: Yeah, so, at the beginning of the summer I can say that most students are really, really shy, particularly for our first-year students. This is the first time many of them have been in a space like this, this is the first time that they’re going to even think about speaking in public that’s not for a grade. And I know that– particularly, there’s one student– so, they design their tours. They actually decide which items in the museum speak to them and they try to stream those together in a story that speaks to them. And one student this summer who was really hesitant about his tour and just wasn’t excited about doing it and he had objects that he felt that he got the most information on, but maybe not the things that he was most drawn to, but by the time he got to the end of the tour, there was mortar and pestle– that’s in one of the galleries, Cape Verdean gallery, and the student is also of Cape Verdean ancestry. And he was able to talk about this object not only from what he had learned through this experience of the museum, but from first-hand experience of his family actually using this tool to prepare things. And I remember the feedback that we got from those who were on his tour, being– just saying that the way that he lit up and the way that he was able to explain about this one particular tool you can see where he felt his confidence, not only in the way that he was delivering the information, but in his ability to sort of interact with his audience as well. And when I gave him that feedback, what the students– what his guests had said about him, he was so excited. And that was, you know– at the beginning of the summer he was, “No, I’m not giving them the tour,” but by the end of the summer– and by the end of his tour, just really confident. And it was really amazing to see.
Anita Walker: How does this translate outside of the museum? What do you see happen when the kids go back to school or what do you hear from their teachers and parents?
Christina Turner: Yeah, so, it’s interesting. There’s a transition in that first year, but there’s also such an amazing transition over the three years. You know, the first-year student who’s nervous to give tours and to speak to the public is now the student who’s volunteering not only to do things in school and in their own communities, but also volunteering to work and support other apprentices in this process as well. So, they bring their families in to the museum. I know a first-year student, Florinda [ph?], this year had brought her entire family so that she could give them a private tour after she had given her first public tour in the museum. And she feels really confident about it now. They’re inviting their friends to be a part of the program. They want them to apply so they can have that same experience as well. And, so, I think that’s one of the biggest things, like the way they both speak about the program, but also their actions and sort of bringing people into the space as well.
Anita Walker: So, Sarah, I want to bring you into the conversation.
Sarah Rose: Sure. I might just add in that the New Bedford public schools, and particularly Dr. Peter Dirkin, the superintendent of schools, is very familiar and invested in this program and we work very closely with the guidance counselors there to recruit students. Christina goes and presents to groups of about fifty students each and she has applications for the program. If students are interested, then they’re invited to come and visit the museum. We put them on buses and bring them down. They have lunch and they see the apprentice lab and visit the galleries and then they go through a rigorous application process that includes an interview. And we’re able to offer six students each year, freshman students at the high school, an opportunity to come and work with us.
Anita Walker: Why did the museum decide that this was an important part of your mission?
Sarah Rose: Sure, the museum– in 2010 the education committee actually decided that it wanted to join a city-wide initiative to look at high school graduation rates and to look at ways to improve them. At the time the city’s graduation rate was just a little over fifty percent. One of our trustees, a man by the name of Gurdon Wattles, really moved this initiative forward. He had seen apprenticeship models in other museums and thought that it could work in New Bedford. The education committee went to the board, the board added it to part of its strategic mission. It’s now very much central to what the board believes the museum should do to support the community. We’re pleased that a hundred percent of our students graduate from high school. This is not always easy. We have in-house tutoring that helps us get a lot of students over the finish line. Ninety-four percent of them go on to secondary educations– post-secondary education. And we’re now tracking that as well, to look at their experience as they transition from high school into college and how to help them be successful in that endeavor. You really as a museum feel like you have a stake in these young people. When they are accepted into this program and become apprentices, part of your job is to assure their success, but they also have a stake in you and the museum had a greater stake in their own community. One of the things that we like to think about when we talk about our YouthReach programs, which this is an exemplary example of, is that it isn’t just about a young person knows more history or plays the violin better or paints better, but they really feel that they matter and can make a difference in their community.
Christina Turner: Absolutely. I think the cultural piece of our program is one third of the work that we do, the learning, the museum, the history part, but there’s also this personal-professional development. There’s this college and career readiness piece as well. And all of that combines really to balance our program. We are a creative youth program, but we’re also a youth development program. And I think all of our pieces really speak to that over the three years.
Sarah Rose: One of the ways we support students after they leave our program is by offering part-time work and summer jobs. So, we had this summer about ten students that came and were at the museum during the summer and some of them are continuing on this fall. It allows the students to really stay connected to the museum and the museum to stay connected to the students. It allows our front-desk to really be the voice of the community, because they’re people from the community who know the collection really well. And what we find is because we have all of these intentional links to our students that when they have a car accident, they call us. When they’re having a problem at school and need to find help for an academic subject, they call us. It allows us to be connected to the student in really unique ways. And, of course, then we also have ways to reaching out to students who don’t reach out to us to remind them to fill out their FASFA or to apply for scholarships or just to check in to see how they’re doing.
Christina Turner: Yeah.
Sarah Rose: One of the really core principles around our creative youth development programs is that building a deep and sustained relationship– not just a drop-off, not just a one-time visit or an hour of a class or something, but it’s you really are creating a personal, deep, and sustained relationship.
Christina Turner: Yeah. We have a student who’s at the Mass College of Pharmacy and she’s in her sixth year of a doctoral program there, will graduate this spring. We’re very proud of her. And she currently lives with one of our trustees in Boston–
Anita Walker: Oh, my gosh!
Christina Turner: The deep– the roots are deep!
Christina Turner: And I’d also say in addition to, like, “Oh, they come back for help,” they come back to share stories of success, too. So, we have a student right now who’s in school full-time working at the front desk part-time and she’s one of the students who credits her participation with not only sort of like fostering and supporting her love of whales and marine biology and her pursuit of her career, but also in just giving her a place to call home. And I talked to the student yesterday and she’s so excited about an opportunity she has to apply for a summer program that will give her a ten-week fellowship in Florida, working with marine animals. And I walked in the front door and the first thing she said to me was, “Christina, can you look at this application? Can you help me fill it out?” And she was just so excited to go through that process and to have someone to sort of share this exciting news with. And I was really excited for her, too.
Anita Walker: Christina, I wish our listeners could see your face– both of you!
Anita Walker: And the pride and excitement. Tell me your story. How did you get involved in this work with youth?
Christina Turner: Yeah. I like to say that I ended up at the museum accidentally on purpose and I like to say that youth development work was kind of– it just was what I did. I grew up in a family where my aunt is a childcare provider and has been since before I was born. So, I always was in an environment where she worked to support youth in various capacities. My first year of college I was at Boston University and I remember running into a group of middle school students in the cafeteria and thinking, “Oh, these students remind me of being at home.” Like, “How can I get involved wherever this group is?” And, so, started working with the Connections in College program that worked with middle school students my first year in college and then ended up running that by my second year in college and then working with Upward Bound at that time. And, so, everything that I’ve done I think centered on youth development. And then I ended up at the museum– I fell in love with whales–
Christina Turner: –living in Maui for two years and remember seeing my first whale, sitting on the beach and being like, “What is that thing in the water?” And it was a giant humpback whale. And, so, I developed this really weird love of whales. And then remembering seeing the opportunity to be at the museum in a youth development program, I was like, “This is a weird combination of two things–”
Christina Turner: It’s like whales and youth development? Sign me up!
Anita Walker: Meant to be! Meant to be.
Christina Turner: Exactly. Exactly.
Anita Walker: One of the other things I wanted you to tell us a little about– so, now you are part of a three-year grant program to support young people after they leave the program. It almost feels as if you’re going to do that no matter what, with or without the grant program. But tell us about that work and what you’re really focusing on.
Sarah Rose: Well, we’re very proud of our students graduating from high school. What we have noticed is that for a variety of reasons things can fall apart when they’re transitioning and working through college. So, our focus now is really to think about ways that the museum can continue to support students after they leave our formal program, our day-to-day program. And some of that is really simple, light touches, like sending out care packages in the fall and inviting them to a not-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving alumni reunion. But then others of them are more coordinated efforts. So, a majority of our students go to Bridgewater State University, Bristol Community College, and UMass-Dartmouth. And, so, we’ve created cohorts of students there, where they know each other from our program and they can support each other while at school. So, if they fail a test or need to figure out how to pay for books or whatever might come up in the course of their time there, they have people they can reach out to that are on-campus and available. In addition, Christina is doing a lot of coaching. Some of that happens naturally. Students call her when they need advice or help or whatever– a friend to talk to, but also Christina is proactive in texting and Facebook and all sorts of ways to reach out to students to make sure that we’re staying in contact with them. Sometimes students feel like if they failed a test or they don’t have enough money for books, that they failed and they almost expect that. We want them to know that that’s a really common college experience and that you just work through it and work past it. And we’ve been very effective in helping students realize that.
Anita Walker: What an amazing program. Well, I want to thank both of you for being with us. Sarah Rose, vice president of communications and programs. And Christina Turner, director of apprentices and interns at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, two more of our Creative Minds Out Loud.
Sarah Rose: Thank you.
Christina Turner: Thank you.
Narrator: To learn more about this episode and to subscribe, visit CreativeMindsOutLoud.org.