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While in-person learning has been finicky since the start of COVID-19, it’s impacted more than just schools.
The Santa Fe Children’s Museum had to adapt to virtual field trips for kids and learn to interact with the community in different ways. During this time, the museum is also changing leadership.
Former Executive Director Susan Lynn led the museum for three years before retiring March 4. She said serving the museum has been one of the greatest joys in her life.
Hannah Hausman will take over as the museum’s acting executive director and Caitlin Bodelson Brodsky is stepping in as the museum’s board president. As the two mothers started their new roles, both cited their children as inspiration.
“Hannah and I both have 5-year-olds, and we both grew up here, and so we’re moms doing this,” Brodsky said. “Which I love because we get another dimension of seeing our guests, and being able to be the voice of the mom, or family, that comes to the museum.”
Hausman has been working at children’s museums for over 20 years and said now, as a mother, it’s interesting to see how her own child reacts to play. She said the children’s museum primarily interacts with and teaches kids through play.
Children’s museums have traditionally been hands-on with their exhibits, she said, but now some kids interact more with video games. For example, her 5-year-old son is into the game Minecraft, so Hausman takes those experiences to work.
Brodsky said she appreciates the diversity at the museum because her 5-year-old might interact with things differently than Hausman’s, which brings a new perspective to the museum.
Sharon Woods, board president emeritus, said having a children’s museum in a town of 80,000 is almost unheard of. Despite this, the museum is able to persist because of the overwhelming community support it enjoys.
“I brought my kids, who are now grown, there and now I bring my grandkids there,” Woods said. “And here we have this second generation bringing their children there, and it’s really the love and support of the community that has sustained us.”
As Hausman takes over leadership during COVID-19, she said children’s museums are learning to operate within a new environment of play – and trying to do so safety. She said she’s hoping to open the museum’s garden by reservation only and to do COVID-safe camps once the weather starts getting nice again. Opening the museum for regular hours probably won’t happen until the pandemic subsides.
Since the pandemic began, the museum has been offering grab-and-go kits for families without internet access. The bilingual kits include lessons, directions and materials for families to learn and play together. The set of kits includes a STEM kit, an art kit, a garden kit and an early childhood education kit.
As of late February, the museum was ready to distribute 6,471 kits to families, including kids at homeless shelters, the Christus St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center, the Railyard Park Conservancy and other places.
“The online life is just where we are now in our world,” Brodsky said. “The coolest part is that we can offer a little piece of the museum in a bunch of homes, around the country really, because anybody can access our content since it’s virtual.”
In addition, the museum started offering virtual field trips in March 2020, within weeks of school closures due to COVID-19. The museum has served 5,851 teachers and students across 308 schools in the state.
It has also helped the community in other ways since the pandemic began. The museum’s garden is usually used for cooking classes and harvesting experiences for kids, but, in March 2020, the museum knew it wouldn’t be able to do that.
Instead, museum staff harvested the garden themselves and were able to donate 1,000 pounds of fresh produce to area homeless shelters in Santa Fe. Hausman said the Children’s Museum plans on doing the same thing again this year.
“There are a lot of kids that don’t have the opportunities that my kids have,” Brodsky said. “I wanted to make sure that I could be involved in a place that can offer that to the community and make that available.”