What We Did with Our (Non) Summer Vacation: An Outreach Partnership

By Kathleen Holko, Manager of School & Tour Services and Corinne Flax, Manager of School & Community Partnerships, Bruce Museum


Focusing on art and science, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut mounts 12-16 temporary exhibitions each year and has a permanent, science exhibit, Changes in Our Land. The museum has an annual visitation of 80,000 people every year, and reaches 27,000 visitors through its educational programs. Approximately 10,000 of these people participated in our Brucemobile outreach program. During the spring, fall and winter, outreach programming is predominantly for school and afterschool groups. Summer outreach activities generally consisted of camp visits; therefore, outreach program numbers for the summer months used to be low. That changed in 2015 when the Greenwich Public Schools (GPS) invited the Bruce Museum to serve as a community partner in the recently revamped curriculum for its Summer Enrichment Program.

Greenwich is a town of approximately 60,000[1] people; its public school system serves over 8,800[2] students during the academic year. GPS Summer Enrichment runs for six weeks during the summer for preschool and elementary school students and five weeks for secondary school students. Eager to expand our relationship with the local public school system, the Bruce Museum’s Education Department quickly accepted the invitation. This particular partnership was made possible through a grant to the GPS from the Greenwich Alliance for Education.

Throughout the summers of 2015 and 2016, the Bruce Museum delivered hands-on, inquiry-based outreach programs to students in 2nd grade and 4th/5th grade in their Summer Enrichment classrooms. We also delivered programs to students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in summer 2016. Class size averaged between 15 to 20 students. In the elementary school classes, our programs correlated to each grade level’s summer theme and curriculum. Brucemobile educators visited each class in these grade levels once a week. In the secondary school classes, educators led an art series which focused on printmaking and a science series which focused on natural phenomenon. Each grade level participated in the science series and the art series once a week.

What Went Well

Working with the GPS to support its Summer Enrichment curriculum has allowed Bruce Museum educators to dig deep into the ins and outs of programming outside of the museum’s walls. After two years of delivering Summer Enrichment programming, we are ready to engage in an in-depth analysis of the experience. This article is the first step in our evaluative process, as we try to understand what worked, what didn’t work, what was challenging and what was great.

GPS Summer Enrichment has provided a level of consistency for Brucemobile per-diem educators which was previously impossible. Prior to summer 2015, outreach numbers were lower than those during the school year. Consequently, per-diem educators often found other jobs during the summer months and did not always return to work with the Bruce Museum. This meant more turn-over among per-diems, necessitating more remedial training sessions and less time to fine tune instructional styles and program content. Now, an average week during the Summer Enrichment Program has 15-20 classes. This provides per-diem educators with consistent work throughout the whole year.

When the Bruce Museum entered this partnership, our educators developed an original set of lessons specifically designed to complement the GPS Summer Enrichment curriculum for the 2nd and 4th-5th grades. Their curriculum has not changed for the last two year, which has allowed educators to fine tune the programs they teach based on experiences from the prior year. This is fortuitous because not all programs work well the first time. Teaching a lesson multiple times allows educators to alter things as necessary, and make recommendations for the next year’s programs. In addition, the GPS and the Summer Enrichment Program serve a diverse audience with a wide range of needs. Familiarity with the program material and the audience has given our full time staff a chance to develop new and exciting programs to meet needs not initially anticipated. Getting to know enrichment students over the course of multiple sessions, and even several summers, means educators develop deeper relationships with the GPS teachers, their students and with the programs. After two years of summer programming, it has become clear that the activities need to be more relaxed, more fun and more open-ended during the summer than during the school year.

Part of committing to provide Summer Enrichment for the second year was to host an open house for the GPS families at the Bruce Museum. The open house brought members of the community into the museum who might not have visited otherwise. The event was also an opportunity for the museum’s educators to meet Summer Enrichment students before working with them in a classroom setting, and for students to meet each other before the summer sessions began. As not all enrichment students attend the same schools during the academic year, the open house was also an opportunity for students and their families to get to know one another before the summer.

Building a stronger connection with our local school system is one of the department’s long term goals. While we do see most of the local public elementary schools in one form or another, the Summer Enrichment programming gave us access to a much larger percentage of the GPS population. The Summer Enrichment Program also allowed the Bruce Museum to engage with the GPS on multiple levels, and with age groups for whom field trips to the museum are challenging. Given their rigorous schedules, middle schools rarely have the opportunity to go on field trips, or have time for push-in programs. Summer Enrichment programming brought the Bruce Museum to middle school teachers and students who may not be familiar with the museum’s offerings.

What Needs Improvement

As the enrichment program grows, the scheduling and time management will become more complex and difficult. Communication is the key to managing a larger program, but can be hard when negotiating three different teaching sites as well as multiple museum educators. Not only were there difficulties communicating with the different schools, but making sure that educators were up to date on new programs, had adequate supplies and arrived at the right location at the right time required thorough coordination.

Teachers and administrators wanted Summer Enrichment Programs to use outdoor spaces but weather often complicated this, as did the presence of hazards such as bees and poison ivy. The challenges of teaching outside were anticipated, but an issue that had not been counted on was that students were frequently pulled out of class during enrichment to receive support services, such as speech coaching, physical therapy, etc. This was problematic for both students and instructors as the programming is sequential and missing one week’s program makes the next week’s program hard to follow.

All the Summer Enrichment lessons were approved by the GPS. General feedback on the effectiveness of enrichment programing has been positive.

“The impact of the summer program was resounding: My students loved bird watching (and kept pointing out the species they learned), en plein air painting…of the trees on the playground, and the visit by local animals (dead and alive). All of these really gave them the experience and knowledge to understand the world around them. I don't see the need for any changes-everyone who visited was knowledgeable and interacted well with the kids--a perfect combination of instruction and excitement!”

Kathryn Young, GPS 4th-5h Grade Summer Enrichment Teacher.

“The Bruce Museum program had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the students. They stretched their learning and retained the information provided by the museum educator. This allowed students the opportunity to be exposed to a science curriculum and museum experience that otherwise they may not have had. In addition, the students had a positive connection with the educators from the museum.”

Ana-Marie Fals, GPS 2nd Grade Summer Enrichment Teacher

“I got a lot of positive feedback from students saying that the Bruce program was different and fun. Based on the end-of-summer survey given to students, 15% said the Bruce classes was their favorite aspect of the summer school program.”

Kerry Gavin GPS Summer School Enrichment Site Coordinator

Despite the positive feedback there is always room for growth. The GPS developed the Summer Enrichment Program for student remediation and enrichment; some of its goals are to prevent summer learning loss and prepare students for their next school year. Establishing evaluative protocol for the efficacy of the program is another part of our long term goal.

Moving Forward

The Bruce Museum will begin its third summer of partnership with the GPS in July 2017. This summer, we would like to implement an evaluation of the program. We believe this will be essential in continuing our delivery of high-quality programs. First, we need to determine what we are evaluating.

  • Do we want to determine the impact on the students?
  • Do we want to measure the effectiveness of our teaching?

We will need to figure out what we can accurately assess. Once we know what we will evaluate, deciding on a format will be the next step.

  • Should we administer pre- and post-tests?
  • Can we conduct program observations and self-reflections to evaluate our teaching methods?
  • Can we craft an evaluation that is built into our programs?

We want to use a method that fits with the flexible environment of Summer Enrichment. We are open to suggestions from the NEMA audience regarding effective evaluation techniques.

Overall, our experience with the GPS Summer Enrichment Program has been beneficial for staff practice. It is an opportunity to think beyond our normal one-session outreach class and create a series of programs that build on each other. The staff has been able to experiment in a non-traditional learning environment outside the museum walls- and since Summer Enrichment is not a traditional classroom, the museum educators had to adapt their approach. In addition, these programs have helped meet an ongoing goal of our Department to build our relationship with the Greenwich Public Schools. We have been able to reach students and teachers from our local school system outside the typical confines of museum programming: outside the normal school year, outside the museum’s walls and inside their classrooms.


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