Four years ago my colleagues and I were talking about barriers to visiting the Museum. The Museum is committed to providing playful learning experiences for all families but we know that there are many families in Boston who haven’t visited us yet. I started to think about what gives me the confidence to try something new and often it’s a friend bringing me along to a new activity with them – which is how I discovered Pickleball, Dim Sum and the Peabody Essex Museum!
What if we gave some parents who already use and love the Museum free memberships so that they could bring new families with them at no extra cost? These parents could serve as hosts, taking families on a tour perhaps or generally showing them the ropes – What can we touch? Where can I breastfeed? Will my child get lost in that scary climbing thing in the lobby? What line do I wait in?
The idea resonated with my colleagues, and in 2014 we launched a program called Parent Ambassadors to identify parents who are trusted community members in Boston neighborhoods who would be willing to introduce families to Boston Children’s Museum.
Before recruiting parents I had several conversations with some of our non-profit partners who serve children and families and were already using parents in leadership roles. They gave me some suggestions for how to shape the program and recruited a group of parents for me to run the idea by. After talking to the parents we adapted our idea based on their suggestions. For instance we made the membership good for 12 people instead of 6 because families come in many sizes. When we had the structure and Ambassador criteria defined, our partners recommended the program to some parent leaders in their neighborhoods and we recruited the first group of Parent Ambassadors who started in March 2014.
What have we learned?
We have learned a lot from the program. The Museum can be a very overwhelming place and Parent Ambassadors asked us for more tools to help them navigate the Museum and its learning opportunities. They are currently helping us test the 2nd iteration of a Parent Guide to Exhibits. Parent Ambassadors have also helped us see where barriers exist and where more training for staff is needed. Parents often enter the Museum with a high level of stress simply by trying to get here so it’s crucial that front line staff have a lot of empathy. Our staff also need to be approachable and knowledgeable about the learning attached to the play experiences because visitors see them as experts.
In addition, many of our Ambassadors are bringing families to the Museum who may not feel comfortable here if they don’t see themselves represented in our staff, exhibits, programs and the books displayed. Honest feedback from the Ambassadors has helped us to see that this can be a barrier. If we are to be a truly inclusive institution it is essential that our staff understand their own power, privilege and biases along with the basic concepts of social justice. To that end we’ve begun a series of trainings based on an anti-bias curriculum and are committed to this on-going process.
Parent Ambassadors talk with me frequently about their experiences in the Museum. They are united in their support of our mission but have identified some barriers to me that we didn’t foresee. Though we strive to be inclusive each of us has a lens through which we experience the world and having the benefit of many eyes is invaluable. Parent Ambassadors are those eyes.
Facts about our current Ambassadors:
1) They live in East Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury, Hyde Park and Roslindale.
2) In addition to moms we have one dad and one grandparent Ambassador.
3) Their collective networks include: Madison Park CDC, YMCA, Boston Public Schools, Family Nurturing Center, Charlestown Tenant Association, The Kennedy Center (Charlestown), Social Security Administration, First Teacher, Boston Family Engagement Network, Vital Village, Nurtury, South Boston Neighborhood House.
4) Half of them are bilingual.
5) Ambassadors are involved in many of the same groups that Museum staff are so we see them frequently at other meetings and events in the city.
Becoming a Parent Ambassador?
Parent Ambassadors must be Boston residents who have children or grandchildren between the ages of 0-10. They are well known in their communities and love to share resources and build positive connections with new families. Ambassadors complete an application, an interview and a 3 hour training before they receive their memberships. In addition, there are 2 meetings per year they attend to share best practices. Ambassador terms are a maximum of 2 years.