Left: Matthew Houle, Curator of Museum Collection, University Museums with visiting students. Right: Martha Wright, Coordinator of Museum Visitor and Tour Services, University Museums with visiting students.

"Kudos to Martha Wright, visitor and tour services, for her collaboration with the Blue Sky Fund to bring 506 students and 12 teachers from 7 elementary schools to campus over a period of 8 days for tours of the museums' permanent collection. Blue Sky Fund, a non-profit organization that provides environmental science education for urban youth, brought students to campus to enhance and strengthen the curriculum by exploring rocks, minerals, and fossils."
—Katreena Clark, University Museums Operations Manager

In February 2018, Martha Wright, Coordinator of Museum Visitor and Tour Services at University Museums worked with a local nonprofit to bring young students to the Lora Robins Gallery for an interactive learning experience. This was the third year in a row that she and the University Museums team has collaborated with the Blue Sky Fund, a youth development non-profit that provides transformational experiences for urban youth through outdoor education.

“Blue Sky was looking for a venue for their February field trip that was not outdoors,” Wright commented, and joked, “We’re free, so that’s a win, and we’re indoors, that’s another win!”

After talking with the Blue Sky Fund staff, Wright and the teachers decided to build the tours around the geology SOL and focus on the rock cycle, basic minerology, and extra topics that might include shells or the gallery’s collection of fossils. On site, Wright works with the teachers to set up interactive stations where the students can touch and hold stones and crystals.

During the visits, Wright helped facilitate questions and moving the students to each station. “We have an educational collection built into this gallery, so there’s absolutely always something hands on. It’s rare for people to go into a museum and touch something. You’re like, ‘Touch these glittery minerals!’ It’s fun for the kids,” she explained.

The students came from local schools including Chimborazo Elementary School, George Mason Elementary School, Fairfield Court Elementary School, Woodville Elementary School, Bellevue Elementary School, Miles Jones Elementary School, Blackwell Elementary School, and Oak Grove Elementary School. Wright commented, “The kids are at an age where they are starting to get too cool for some things, but some of the kids get really excited with me, and I love it!”

About Blue Sky, Wright said, “They’re such a popular program, there are loads of schools in the city of Richmond that don’t have the funding or the staff to [take trips]. They have schools knocking down their doors asking if they can get their kids on trips. They need more funding to make it happen for everyone.” She also noted, “They’re like celebrities when they go to the schools. The biggest thing I’ve seen with these educators is that they make these beautiful connections with kids who are a lot of times hungry for a solid, dependable person in their life.”

Blue Sky has expressed to Wright that the experience has been positive for the nonprofit. “The biggest feedback we’ve gotten is that it’s nice how flexible we are…working with K-12 and being flexible with them is a no-brainer. If you’re bringing a group of fifty to sixty fifth graders, something is going to happen [to cause a delay]!”

UR employees also have the opportunity to connect with University Museums by visiting or by incorporating the exhibits into their work. “We have some central tenets to our purpose. One is curatorial, introducing the academic community to new artists they might not be aware of, but also helping to cultivate university students with professional opportunities,” Wright said. “We have such a huge collection and it spans different cultures and different centuries…that we can really connect with a tremendous amount of curricula… I can take what [UR students] are learning in class and get them to apply it in a new or odd or creative way that it helps further cement what they’re learning.”

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