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Shell Museum works to promote youth with programs, volunteering positions

By Staff | Sep 3, 2009

Michelle Rodenburg is a typical 14-year-old. She looks forwards to new experiences and loves to make new friends.

But one thing that separates Rodenburg from her peers is knowledge of shells.

The young mollusk maven wanted to get to share her love and knowledge of the invertebrates. A unique program that trains youths to become junior docents at the Shell Museum gave Michelle, a summer resident, her chance to talk shells as well as gain valuable working experience. The junior high school student spent the summer working with children and gained 15 hours of credit for her work.

“I thought it would be a unique thing to do,” Michelle said during an interview from her Minnesota home. “I think it would really be good on a college resume.”

And to the Shell Museum staff, training youth like Michelle are invaluable.

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum depends on volunteers to run well-staffed programs and events for the community.

It considers its well-informed volunteer brigade an asset to the non-profit educational and scientific based museum.

But training young people to understand shells and explain it to visitors is considered especially important by staff.

“We need to train up our next generation,” said Kathleen Hoover, the public relations manager for the Shell Museum.

Hoover said young volunteers like Michelle underscore the Museum’s mission to teach others about mollusks and gain awareness of nature and the environment.

According to museum staff, junior docents are trained volunteers, between the ages of 13 and 18, whose major responsibility is to help Museum visitors better understand and appreciate mollusks and the shells they make. Twelve new Junior Docents are selected each year in the fall. Selection is based upon teacher recommendations, application and an interview.

Aside from training up the future generation Hoover said the hope is too identify young people with an interest in marine biology.

“It’s so important to start early teaching children about the environment and how our actions impact the natural world,” said Diane Orvis Thomas, Public Program Specialist. “We never know what may spark a child’s interest. Maybe it’s learning that mollusks have many of the same body parts as we do or that they have provided us with food, medicine, tools, and many other products. A career path might evolve from a junior docent experience. The impact of children teaching other children is powerful. Research indicates that rehearsing facts in preparation for teaching others helps students retain challenging subject matter. We hope that the junior docents will become the next generation of Shell Museum volunteers.”

In preparation for becoming junior docents or even future marine biologists the Shell Museum has a variety of programs this fall to spark children’s interest.

“Our focus is on engaging children,” Hoover said. “Kids love to teach other kids.”

Steven Shuster said his son Danny, 7, enjoyed himself at children’s programs offered this summer. Shuster said he found the program to be informative for the kids.

“If we have a question about shells we ask Danny,” he said.

Danny’s voice nearly sings when he describes his experience during the summer programs.

“I learned about the shells,” Danny said. “I liked the puppet show.”

Besides the Junior Docent Program, the Shell Museum will offer a Puppetry Program that will allow students to write story lines, learn about mollusks and perform.

“Puppets are a fantastic way to get a core group of children interested in being part of a permanent puppet troupe,” Hoover said.

This puppet troop once created would perform at schools and events – entertaining and teaching others about shells and mollusks.

The junior docent program and puppetry program will both be offered after school at the Shell Museum.