UMB Provides a Year of Play to Kids in Baltimore

February 12, 2019    |  

Lekisha McCray is a mother of two children, a first-grader and a second-grader who attend James McHenry Elementary/Middle School. Like any devoted parent, Lekisha wants to take her children to exciting places where they can have fun and explore.

“I’m working two jobs and my funds are tight,” explains McCray, “so I don’t always have the money to take my kids to all the places I would really like to take them.”

Andrew, a 4-year-old student at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School, helps Greg May, the performing arts manager at Port Discovery, perform a lasso trick.

Andrew, a 4-year-old student at James McHenry Elementary/Middle School, helps Greg May, the performing arts manager at Port Discovery, perform a lasso trick.

McCray says she was just talking to her daughter about this, and then the very next day she was greeted with a happy surprise when she picked her kids up from school. On Jan. 24, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) surprised more than 100 families at James McHenry with free, one-year family memberships to Port Discovery Children’s Museum.

(View a photo gallery.)

“I am so humbled and so grateful and so excited about this!” exclaimed McCray, holding up her membership passes. “We have never been there before, and I can’t wait to see what’s inside. It’s exciting that I’ll be able to spend the quality time with my kids and it doesn’t cost me anything.”

Port Discovery is a nonprofit institution, located in Downtown Baltimore, that offers three floors of educational, interactive exhibits and programs for children to explore. With these free memberships, 110 pre-K, kindergarten, and first-grade students from James McHenry will be able to visit Port Discovery with their families and take part in playful learning opportunities at the museum free of charge through Dec. 30, 2019.

The giveaway is part of UMB’s new partnership with Port Discovery as an expansion of an ongoing partnership and program called “A Kid’s Port to Discovery: Healthy Habits,” a five-week program at the museum that teaches children in Baltimore about the importance of eating healthy and staying active.

(View a photo gallery.)

“We really wanted to partner with the museum to bring something impactful to the community,” explains Ashley Valis, MSW ’06, UMB’s executive director of strategic initiatives and community engagement. “Port Discovery is the city’s museum for children and a lot of these kids have never been there before, so it’s really great to see how excited everyone is about finally getting to use this great asset in the city that is just a few blocks from their neighborhood.”

The children and families also got a preview of what they can expect to see at Port Discovery. While the adults picked up their membership packages, the children were treated to an interactive Silly Circus Science show, performed by Greg May, Port Discovery’s performing arts manager. The children watched May perform a juggling act and several balancing stunts all while learning about the science behind it all. The youngsters even got to jump in on the action with scarf juggling, feather balancing, and lasso twirling.

(View a video below.)

“Port Discovery is here as a resource to our community,” explains Barb Henschel, Port Discovery’s community outreach manager. “It’s a place where curiosity, imagination, and collaboration are celebrated. It’s not only a place to play and learn, but a place of family engagement and a place of growth and discovery. Through this partnership with UMB and James McHenry, we really hope that the museum becomes a part of growing up in Baltimore especially for this next generation of kids.”

The access to Port Discovery is a piece of a much larger transformational experience that James McHenry’s principal, Christophe Turk, is trying to create for students and families at the school. Now in its second year of turnaround work, James McHenry has made great strides in academics and extracurricular achievements, including: improvement in math and reading outcomes; better student attendance; a STEM team that will be competing in a national robotics competition; and the introduction of the Ingenuity Program — which is the most rigorous STEM program in Baltimore City schools.

“We have the momentum and we are building something special together,” says Turk. “What’s most important is that everybody feels like we’re a team in this together for young people.”

Turk went on to say that he is thrilled to have anchor institutions like UMB and Port Discovery investing their time and resources in the students at James McHenry. He explained that family memberships to Port Discovery will help students reach their academic potential by creating a place for positive learning experiences that are fun and engaging outside of a school setting.

“This membership provides our families with the opportunity to take all of the learning that happens throughout the school day and then augment it by going out and having some educational fun on the weekend,” says Turk. “It’s not only exciting and engaging for students, but they always walk away with hard outcomes about what they’ve learned at the museum.”

Many of the parents wasted no time in using their new memberships. Aleisa Smith, a mother of three and an assistant kindergarten teacher at James McHenry, went to Port Discovery the weekend after receiving the family pass. Her children — Xavion, 10, Zamya, 5, and Ameah, 3 — had never been to the museum before, and Smith knew they would be delighted by all of the interactive exhibits. “My kids like hands-on things like Legos,” she said.

Smith and her family stayed at Port Discovery for about an hour and a half. She says Xavion, who is a fourth-grader, stayed active in the climbing exhibit while her daughters gravitated to the kitchen and nutrition section. “They’re definitely into the food,” she said. “We all had a fine time!”

Meanwhile, Malik Jordan, father of pre-K student Aubree Jordan, was overjoyed about the free family membership. “Port Discovery is my favorite place to go,” he said, and his daughter feels the same way. Jordan says that Aubree liked seeing all of the hands-on exhibits and enjoyed having a new place to play and have fun.

These free memberships to Port Discovery represent a long-lasting partnership between UMB and James McHenry.

“As a principal, it’s great to know that there’s a partner ready to go the distance with you, side-by-side, to make sure that our children are successful,” says Turk. “I am excited for our future together — the short and long game — and I’m very excited about building something great together.”

In addition to James McHenry, UMB gave out dozens of year-long memberships to families at the University’s Community Engagement Center as well as the children participating in the PAL Program (Police Athletic/Activities League).