Graduate School

DiMenna Children’s Museum Showcases a Bank Street Approach

Posted by Nick Gray on October 24, 2012

DiMenna Children's Museum

Nearly fifty Bank Street alumni, current students, and faculty members gathered at the New York Historical Society’s DiMenna Children's History Museum on October 19  for an educators’  talk commemorating the museum’s first anniversary.

A museum-within-a-museum that occupies the New-York Historical Society's entire lower level, DiMenna includes character-based pavilions, a children's library, and interactive exhibits and games. The Museum explores 300 years of New York and American history through the eyes and lives of children of the past.

Bank Street in Action

At the event, Jesse Pugh ’76, president of Bank Street’s Alumni Association, introduced Bank Street alumna Jo Ann Secor ’83, Director of Museum Services at Lee. H. Skolnick Architecture and Design Partnership. Jo Ann presented on the interpretive design process along with her colleagues, alumni Christina Ferwerda ’06 and Dan Marwit ’02. Guests then had a chance to explore the hands-on exhibits and the children’s library.

“This was about taking almost 300 years of history and making it meaningful and relevant, and creating what we call ‘personal entry points’ for children, which is all very Bank Street. I knew by having Christina and Dan involved in shaping and choreographing the experience we could engage kids in fun and exciting and very current ways of learning, and that it really had a chance of being successful not only as an entertainment but as an educational tool."

Bank Street alumni and DiMenna Children's Museum collaborators Jo Ann Secor, Dan Marwit, and Christina Ferwerda.
Bank Street alumni and DiMenna Children's Museum collaborators Jo Ann Secor, Dan Marwit, and Christina Ferwerda.

Jo Ann, who enrolled in Bank Street’s Museum Leadership program after directing an education program at a zoo, is proud of her team’s work at DiMenna. And she is particularly grateful to have collaborated with fellow Bank Street alumni on the effort.

Dan graduated from Bank Street’s Museum Education: Childhood program, which trains students to work in cultural institutions but also leads to certification to teach in public schools. He sees the physical elements of the exhibit—the design, the space, and most importantly, the artifacts—as essential to building those “personal entry points,” or the hooks that spark a person’s interest.

“Being in the presence of a physical thing gives a person, including young people, a different feeling than seeing something in a book. You can immediately relate that to your experience of learning and your imagining of where that object came from. So imagination is a really big part of it.”

Christina, a graduate of the Museum Education program, says that process helps kids become active participants in the exhibit. She says, “You have to ask, ‘what is it?’ ‘Where did it come from?’ ‘What does it look like that you know?’ That sense of inquiry and discovery makes kids a lot more active, so they get this physical experience as well as the opportunity to ask and answer their own questions.”

Several current graduate students attended the event, and Jo Ann offered this advice for those pursuing careers in museum education:

“Bank Street opened up my entire thinking about how people learn and how to create meaningful experiences through informal learning environments. It’s really important to know who your audience is if you’re going into museum education. You want the experience to be memorable and engaging. You have to understand what they’re passionate about, and use that along with developmental theory to find entry points for engaging experiences. It’s about making the connection to the people you’re serving.”

Learn more about Bank Street’s museum education programs, and apply online.