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New York City

From the Superintendent’s Seat
The Making Of A Museum
By Dr. Carole G. Hankin with Randi T. Sachs

A number of years ago, children at a Syosset elementary school found what appeared to be animal bones in the schoolyard. They brought them to their teacher and asked how they could find out where they came from. The teacher turned to her principal, who in turn asked her colleagues if anyone could help. An administrator at one of our middle schools said she knew a paleontologist and he might be able to help. He did. Dr. Bryn Mader told us that the bones were from a deer and praised the students for their discovery and curiosity.

Dr. Mader, who teaches at a local college, had been working on his own project for years. He had amassed a collection of prehistoric bones, fossils, and cast replicas and had obtained accreditation to form “The Long Island Natural History Museum.” He asked me if I could help and the idea intrigued me. Could a school district house a museum?

Our district has established partnerships with the finest museums in New York. Our students learn from professionals at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Modern Art. These museums are truly institutions of education and the programs that we have designed with them can be modeled by other school districts across the region. Now we had an opportunity to be a part of the beginning of a new museum for Long Island.

One of the many great assets of the Syosset School District is the way we work together. Many people were involved with this project, and they all responded enthusiastically and capably. First, I discussed the idea with our Board of Education. They are always willing to provide our students with special opportunities and this was no exception. We agreed to house the museum in exchange for the use of facilities by our students and faculties, and the consultation services. We identified a room we could convert in one of our middle schools, which could spare the space.

Of course, our science department worked on a lesson guide that teachers could use to link the exhibits on display to their own curriculum. We quickly saw that students could use the museum not only to study science, but that the teachers could plan lessons on just about any subject.

Our art teachers got involved, and the result is a wall of wonderful drawings of dinosaurs by our middle school students. This month, after about six months of planning and preparation, we celebrated the opening of The Long Island Natural History Museum with a ribbon cutting ceremony. At the ceremony I remarked that it was especially nice to have this museum open in the district at a time where one of our priorities is building a computer/communications network that will provide our students with state-of-the-art technology. It’s still nice to take a break in our museum and imagine a time when dinosaurs inhabited this world.

The first students to visit the museum were kindergartners, and the looks on their faces told it all. Wow! Here were giant skulls and fossils in a school right near their homes. Imagine the drawings they would create back in their classrooms and the stories they would tell their families.

It will be exciting to see how the students in the entire Syosset district use this museum. There are lessons available for every grade level, and we look forward to our high school students getting involved in research with our consulting paleontologist.

One of the most important things in education is to teach our children to keep their minds open to possibilities. This museum is the first of its kind in any school district. We saw a possibility, gathered our team together, and can now point to the results with pride. #


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