This feature introduces you to colleagues in museums around New England. It’s often too easy for colleagues to feel isolated in their institutions—we hope this feature will break down the distances a bit. We also hope that it will reinforce your own enthusiasm for your work and cause you to reflect on the positive contributions that you make.
In this edition of the NEMA Member Profile, we feature NEMA PAG Chair Antonio Méndez, Countdown to Kindergarten Educator at the Boston Children's Museum.
You're currently the Countdown to Kindergarten Educator at the Boston Children's Museum. What does your role entail, and what are your favorite parts of the job?
As Boston Children’s Museum Countdown to Kindergarten Educator, my primary goal is to engage visitors and introduce them to the skills and information necessary for children (and their adults) to enter and successfully tackle primary school. In this role I coordinate several exhibits and programs, such as the museum’s Countdown to Kindergarten classroom exhibit. Through program initiatives like Countdown to Kindergarten we don't just prepare our toddlers and preschool visitors for primary school but engage caregivers throughout the city. I work with playgroups, libraries, families and nannies, and other groups that play a key role in ensuring children are prepared to enter kindergarten.
Consequently, community engagement is a significant component of my position. Boston Children’s Museum is a mission-driven organization and my job is create ways to engage all members of our community. From working diverse community events and supporting school readiness, to organizing the museum’s Hispanic Heritage and Children Literacy celebrations, cultural competence is a key component of my work, and the work of my colleagues.
How did you end up in the museum field? Tell us about your career path.
I have always been in the education field. Even as a high school student in Puerto Rico I worked as a teacher in the city afterschool art program. I came to United States as a transfer student to continue my art studies. Eventually I moved to Massachusetts to follow my passion for education. In 2003 I launched my formal teaching career at the high school and adult level where I worked in both the public and private system. I continued on to middle and then to elementary grades, serving kindergarten and prekindergarten children. Boston Children’s Museum presented a perfect opportunity to continue my work with this age group in a broader, systemic and also informal way. Informal teaching proved effective for me in my previous roles. What drew me to museum was the opportunity to employ informal learning techniques in a larger way that incorporated curriculum development, bilingual communications and community engagement. And here I am: every career step was a piece of a puzzle I am now living, and enjoying.
What's happening in children's museums right now that you're particularly excited about?
In general, I see museums working to become more inclusive - expanding their identities, goals, and constituencies. Children’s museums in particular seem to be leading the way in moving beyond museum walls to merge their roles and identities with those of their local communities. This is a new approach that is proving effective for leveraging community-wide resources and assets to broaden impact. It is also proving effective at meeting fluid community needs. I believe fluidity is essential to children’s museums’ continued effectiveness: our role is to bridge generations and provide opportunities in ways we cannot entirely envision. As new generations bring new needs and demands, children’s museums must try to provide the space, programs, and flexible opportunities for our young people to become contributing members of a healthy society. I am excited to see the importance children’s museums are placing on this and how other institutions are supporting these endeavors. Often, children’s museums provide a child’s first art show, theater performance, science exploration, music performance, or space to make friends. With innumerable informal teaching and opportunities, children’s museums have a responsibility to provide what schools (and often households) are not capable of: allowing children to explore and expand beyond what they do in classrooms. Flexibility enables this crucial outcome. I am excited to see that children’s museums are serving as family centers for an intimate as well as large community gatherings, that they are responding to and developing our future citizens, and that other similar institutions are taking notice.
What should people be looking forward to from the Children's Museum PAG? How can they get involved?
Children’s museums are working to engage all types of families and build upon the work of other museums, centers, and institutions. The Children's Museum PAG is excited to work with other NEMA members and exchange information that will enable effective development of our institutions. In particular, we are committed to seeking out and sharing best practices, approaches, and strategies. We are committed to our vision - one which is shared by our many partner institutions - of strengthening our sector so that it may serve as the nucleus for the development of an enriched society. To that end, our PAG is working on a very interesting workshop on family engagement that every museum will benefit from. Keep an eye out for it. For more information, Please contact me at Mendez@BostonChildrensMuseum.org or Beth A. Weller at email@example.com Director of Operations, The Children’s Museum in Connecticut.
How old is your inner child, and what does he like best about museums?
Most days, I feel like a 5 year old wondering about, questioning, everything around me. What I most love about museums is the stories visitors tell about how the museum has impacted their everyday life. It’s such a joy to meet parents outside of the museum, to hear stories of their child’s first days in school, learn how the museum programs helped them with kindergarten entrance. I love to witness firsthand the impact museums have on individuals and families.