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For Your Radar: The National Association of Museum Schools

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Webb Summer School, July 2014. Photo credit: Nancy Newman Photography
Webb Summer School, July 2014. Photo credit: Nancy Newman Photography

When invited to make a statement I’d like to be true in the future, I often offer a vision of America in which “any child can choose to go to school in a museum.” Today’s guest post by Katherine Kelbaugh shares progress towards my preferred future. Katherine is the Executive Director of the National Association of Museum Schools (NAMS) and of the Museum School of Avondale Estates in Georgia and has partnered with CFM on our explorations of museums and education over the years. NAMS held its first conference in 2015, with funding from the Georgia Department of Education and support from IMLS, and now has incorporated as an independent nonprofit. Katherine also served as a sounding board for the chapter exploring museums’ role as essential educational infrastructure in this year’s edition of TrendsWatch.

— Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President, Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums


­­­­­K-12 students and teachers are facing significant challenges as they re-enter the schoolhouse following extended periods of virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Months to years of less engaging instruction, less effective pedagogy, and minimal teacher/peer interaction have left students and teachers desperate for a new approach to teaching and learning.

I believe that museum schools can offer solutions to these challenges! In more than fifty communities across the country, museum schools offer students hands-on, engaging, and empowering learning opportunities. These specialized schools serve a variety of student populations and communities and are found in the form of charter schools, magnet schools, traditional public schools, and private schools.

Museum schools partner with museums to bring learning to life for a diverse group of P-12 students. Though each museum school is unique, they all prioritize the building of partnerships with museums to engage students in learning opportunities that are interactive, engaging, and meaningful. Museum schools, housed in urban and rural settings across the US, successfully serve students that represent a variety of cultural, geographic and economic experiences.

These innovative, engaging schools are found in a variety of settings and partner with museums in numerous ways. Some museum schools, like Normal Park Museum Magnet School, The Museum Academy, and New York City Museum School, are housed in school buildings and travel to partner museum sites for exploration. Other museum schools, like Genessee Community Charter School and the Grand Rapids Public Museum School, are housed on museum campuses!

And museum schools work! Our preliminary data shows that, when compared to local and state non-museum school peers, museum school students typically perform higher on state-standardized tests, specifically in the subjects of reading and math (formal research results are forthcoming). Further, museum school students are exposed to significantly more hands-on and engaging learning experiences than non-museum school peers.

Though museum schools have been serving students for decades, they have largely been working in isolation from other museum schools and their museum partners. The National Association of Museum Schools (NAMS) is a newly formed corporation dedicated to supporting current museum schools, future museum schools, museums, arts organizations, schools and other community organizations in the development of effective hands-on, real-world learning opportunities for children and young adolescents. The National Association of Museum Schools intends to be the anchor that connects museum school educators and museum professionals around the country. We are dedicated to expanding the successful museum model to more classrooms and schools.

NAMS is specifically designed to support and impact: Museum school staff and students; museums, zoos, centers, and other organizations interested in meaningful partnerships with local schools; non-museum school staff and students; educators within school districts and Colleges of Education; founding boards and community groups interested in opening a museum school.

The mission of NAMS is to exhibit, enhance, and expand the successful museum school model by uniting and developing educators, museums, and community partners. NAMS’ vision is to elevate PK-12 education by advancing current museum schools, accelerating museum programming, and advocating for additional museum schools, leading to increased student growth and engagement.

NAMS recently kicked off our 2022 Membership Drive and we are eager to connect with and support museums and their school partners nationwide. As a member of the National Association of Museum Schools, museums and schools have the unique opportunity to learn with like-minded partners that value museum/school partnerships and their significant impact. Members also have access to and support implementing the scalable features and elements of successful K-12 museum/school collaborations. Join NAMS now and become inspired by passionate thinkers within the museum school community.

NAMS is ready to bring museum schools and museums together to share their experiences and expand impact throughout the country. Drawing upon the extensive partnerships among current museums and their museum school partners, NAMS strives to expand this impact by sharing the unique pedagogy and best practices of museum schools and their museum partners with all schools and all museums. NAMS is thrilled to engage the nationwide museum and museum school communities and build an association based on the needs of these groups.

Through working with the Center for the Future of Museums, and presenting at several of AAM’s Annual Meetings, I’ve learned that many museum people who are not currently involved in a museum-school partnership are still deeply interested in the topic. Now that NAMS has relaunched as a stand-alone nonprofit, I invite you to join, whether you are just beginning to think about incubating a museum school or are involved in a partnership that is not yet on our radar.

Through NAMS, we can work together to strengthen:

  • Research documenting how the core elements of museum learning lead to improved student outcomes for a diverse body of students. The National Association of Museum Schools is primed to disseminate and support the expansion of these core elements.
  • The power of museums and museum schools to make change within the P-12 setting by fostering collaboration among museum schools, museums, and traditional schools.
  • The development of current museum schools, and increase access to more museum schools, which benefits students, teachers, and museum educators.

If you are interested in joining NAMS, or learning more about our work, please contact Executive Director Dr. Katherine Kelbaugh at Katherine.kelbaugh@nationalmuseumschools.org.

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