Queens is one of the most diverse boroughs in the world. If you take the 7 train from Manhattan to the last stop in Flushing, you will have traveled through distinct and diverse communities that include Little India, Little Colombia and one of the largest Chinatowns outside of Asia. To get to NYSCI, you need to get off at the 111th Street stop and walk towards Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which was the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. During this 12-minute walk, you will walk through a diverse community located in Corona, Queens. This neighborhood has had one of the largest influx of newly arrived immigrants and first-generation Latino immigrants in New York City.

Inspired by the community’s diversity, NYSCI started a museum-wide community initiative called NYSCI Neighbors. The goal of NYSCI Neighbors is to build a deep, long-term relationship with our local community by collaborating with schools, community-based organizations and families to co-create opportunities that improve access to and engagement with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). We do this through exposure to STEM resources, learning opportunities and creative STEM career pathways.

One of the main pillars of NYSCI Neighbors is to promote parent and family engagement through program activities and events. This past year, we launched the parent engagement component of NYSCI Neighbors, Parent University. The goal is to engage and empower our local parents and have them serve as advocates for STEM within their families and communities. We want to encourage whole family learning and help parents understand how learning can be different than what they perceive it to be. Parent University also provides resources and services in areas that parents have identified as challenges, such as English Language courses and literacy workshops.

Our local families place a high priority on learning and for many, their views of learning and education are very traditional and academic: workbooks, homework, drills and traditional forms of learning that they may have been exposed to in their education and that their children are exposed to in schools now. We have seen parents arrive at NYSCI with their children and let their children “play” at the exhibits, while they sit on the sides waiting for our Homework Zone session to start.

Our solution was to create a program that allowed families to explore NYSCI together while introducing parents to various activities they could explore with their children both at NYSCI and at home. Our Parent Ambassadors program is a 10-week program that runs on Fridays from 3 – 4:30 pm. Our main goal was to have our parents be familiar and comfortable with NYSCI and learning through a hands-on, exploratory approach, rather than a traditional academic approach.

Throughout the 10 sessions, we explored different areas of NYSCI including Connected Worlds, Design Lab, and Maker Space. Our parents kept a journal that helped to capture their reflections and help guide their thought process during each of the sessions. The journals also helped make each activity and exhibit more relatable to their everyday lives. At the end of each session, we held a reflection time where parents would connect the theme of the day to their children’s lives, their school work, and even their past experiences.

“One of the best things about this program is spending more time with my daughter and nephews because, honestly, at home, they grab the phone and their tablet. But here, we spend time together and they teach us a program about where water comes from and I honestly never thought that it’s like that and well, I was surprised that we learned so much today.”- Parent Ambassador

The above quote was spoken by one of our Parent Ambassadors. This particular family had explored NYSCI various times, however, this time the experience was different. By having a set time, families were able to interact together and learn together. Before, this parent would bring their children and sit at the sidelines while her children explored the museum. However, by shaping this as a family program, this parent felt a connection to both her children and the museum.

For the second year of Parent Ambassador, we are looking forward to engaging more local families. We are planning to run three cohorts and also adding a second tier to this program, which will keep the families who have participated in the 10-week sessions engaged. This year, we are piloting quick activities that can be done at local schools during PTA meeting and Parent Teacher Conferences. NYSCI wants families to see that learning can be both educational and fun!

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