For area schools, museum partnership enriches student learning

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A little house sits on the shore of America’s oldest fishing port with one mission in mind: to bring history to life for those who live there.

The Cape Ann Museum, in downtown Gloucester, has been an academic resource for more than a century as it bridges the region’s past and present through art installations, interactive exhibits, programs and events. 

And over the years, a number of schools on Cape Ann and the North Shore have taken advantage of the museum's resources to expand on curriculum. 

“You can open up a book and look at a picture of something to give it context,” said Courtney Richardson, the museum’s director of education and public programs. “But to come to a place like the Cape Ann Museum and see different artifacts and objects that relate directly to what they are studying. That is what is really powerful, I think.”

On Saturday, the Cape Ann Museum will continue its mission by hosting the annual Gloucester Citywide School Arts Festival.

For 11 years, the Gloucester Education Foundation and Gloucester Public Schools have hosted an all-day festival where the community can appreciate art and performances by children from every school in the district. The festival takes place at the Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant St.; Kyrouz Auditorium at City Hall, 9 Dale Ave.; and Sawyer Free Library, 2 Dale Ave.

This year, a variety of visual art displays, poetry and drama performances will be exhibited at the museum.

“It is wonderful for kids to be able to bring their families over to the museum to see their work,” said Gloucester Schools Assistant Superintendent Gregg Bach. “There is pride in their work, but there is also automatic exposure to other works of art.”

“It makes for a shared experience for families,” Bach said.

In addition to the festival, community members have found the museum’s material to be a great learning opportunity for students and teachers throughout the academic year. All Cape Ann public school students receive free admission. 

A frequent museum visitor, Xander Oaks, 18, has been able to make connections from the galleries to the streets of his hometown through the field trips Gloucester High School has taken over the years.

“It definitely helps build an appreciation for the place that I live in,” Oaks said. “Coming to the museum and learning how people worked to establish this place and work to protect and create it. How they lived and worked here while maintaining respect for the environment, it kind of puts it all into perspective.”

Regional impact

The museum’s educational impact has reached far beyond Gloucester.

Every year, Kelly Zaval and Laura Doyle, fourth-grade co-teachers at Glen Urquhart School in Beverly, bring their students to the museum to learn about and engage with Gloucester’s history — especially that related to fishing.

As students learned in class about the Gloucester sea serpent — a creature reportedly seen off the coast of Gloucester and Nahant in the 1800s — the museum was able to provide historical documents, images, personal accounts, and artifacts in facilitating the students’ learning.

“The museum provided us with so many different ways of researching and learning information,” Doyle said. “It was amazing.”

After learning about the underwater creatures of Gloucester, fourth-graders were able to articulate their opinion of the sea serpent in essays.

“The students learned how to write a persuasive essay and how to structure it,” Doyle said. “They took a position whether or not they thought the sea serpent was real and then provided evidence.”

“When you get kids excited about the place that they live and you find some content like the sea serpent, fishing, or the lighthouses that are relevant to where the kids live, then you can teach them skills by using that content,” said Zaval.

In addition to lessons about the sea serpents and fishing industry of Gloucester, Glen Urquhart students have had their artwork displayed in the museum as a part of student exhibits.

“For a child at any school, that is a great feeling,” said Zaval. “To be able to say that you are an artist, we are all artists.”