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Jessica Intrator from the Children's Discovery Museum describes a program that connects youth with a community institution to promote technology skills, health awareness, and positive social and academic outcomes.

Children's Discovery Museum (CDM) of San Jose serves 300,000 visitors annually, attracting families with children to a variety of hands-on, inquiry-inspiring exhibits. CDM also provides unique learning opportunities to a smaller targeted audience through its ongoing, out-of-school time (OST) programs. Since 2001, we have served youth ages 10 to 14 through the Discovery Youth (DY) after school program and the Summer of Service program. These programs connect youth participants with the museum and with the community by enabling them to form relationships with museum educators and to create multimedia projects for museum visitors.

At the programs' core are strong youth development practices, which celebrate youth as resources and acknowledge the importance of adult role models. We use service learning and inquiry-based methods to promote youth's healthy physical and emotional development. In DY, two museum educators, supervised by CDM's director of youth programs, guide youth in a program that connects youth with technology and integrates health awareness in a learning environment distinctly different from a school health class.

DY channels youth interest in technology into multimedia projects that promote healthy behaviors to others, especially younger peers. These projects focus on such topics as promoting good hygiene, smoking prevention, and demystifying doctor visits. Youth create the projects in CDM's Multimedia Studio, where they learn how to shoot footage with digital video cameras and use multimedia software to edit and animate video. Participants have opportunities to connect with the community by showcasing their completed work at the Museum and at the San Jose Children's Health Fair.

In order to continually improve the quality of the DY and Summer of Service programs, we conduct evaluation. We believe in involving youth in all aspects of programming, including evaluation, and we therefore use surveys and focus groups, which encourage youth reflection. We also incorporate the program's technology focus into our evaluation efforts by inviting youth participants to engage in video interviews and email surveys. In addition, we engage parents in the program and its evaluation by conducting parent surveys and interviews.

Evaluation has helped our programming to evolve and improve throughout its development. A formative evaluation, conducted in the first year of DY, used interviews with staff and participants to document the program's implementation and to assess progress toward program goals. Impact evaluations have also been useful in shaping DY. An impact evaluation in the third year of DY studied whether and how the technology-focused program provided youth with greater self-confidence, better social skills, and an increased sense that they are important resources in the community. This evaluation measured the learning gains and opinions of 35 DY youth in participant surveys, participant focus groups, end-of-year parent surveys and interviews, end-of-year staff surveys, and youth whole-group reflection activities.

Connections with the community and other institutions are integral to the success of CDM's OST programs. Both evaluations described above included an assessment of how well the program connected participating youth with other supports for healthy development, including community, families, and schools. Findings indicate that the DY program has been successful in making such linkages. Here are some examples:

  • OST–community: Participants presented their work at the San Jose Children's Health Fair and the CDM's Safe Nights, which are parties for youth held at the museum. Several hundred non-DY youth saw the projects at these events.
  • OST–family: As a result of DY, participants felt that they improved their relationships with family members.
  • OST–school: In surveys, youth said that DY helped them prepare for school. One youth expressed confidence that his computer skills would help him as he enters high school. Youth also felt that their academic achievement had improved since being in DY.

The evaluations also assessed academic and youth development outcomes. Youth felt that their behavior, motivation, health, and academic achievement changed since being in DY. They also reported that they had made a difference in someone's life and that DY activities helped them think about who they wanted to be someday. Youth, parents, and staff reported improvements in youth's technology skills, creativity, teamwork skills, relationships with peers and adults, self-esteem, and responsibility.

The surface benefits for CDM are clear: additional volunteer support, positive engagement for younger visitors with older peers, and the development of an early employment pipeline. But the greater benefits reside in the CDM's capacity and commitment to making a deep impact on the lives of young people in our community. The programs help us to connect youth with cultural institutions and with positive adult role models from the community. The museum setting provides a unique learning environment in which to develop programs that promote youth's school achievement and positive relationships with families and the community.

Jessica Intrator
Media Studio Educator/Museum Educator for Youth
Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose
180 Woz Way, San Jose, CA 95110
Tel: 408-298-5437 ext. 243

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