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Docent program marks 30 years of guiding school tours


Fairbanks, Alaska—Each semester for the past 30 years, Fairbanks school children have settled down in front of a docent to learn the secrets of the museum. The lessons they absorb from the collections and exhibits are a result of a legacy of teamwork between local teachers and the museum’s education staff.

Terry Dickey was the museum’s education director when the guided school tours program began in the spring of 1982.

“We met with teachers who helped us design topics that matched learning outcomes with classroom objectives,” Dickey said. “They knew that students learn in different ways and offered valuable suggestions about using hands-on objects, storytelling, and activities.”

After years of collaboration, the museum today features a core of volunteers who serve as docents. They are a major strength of the program, says Jennifer Arseneau, the museum’s education and public programs manager.

“These dedicated volunteers have a passion for learning and sharing the joy of discovery with kids,” she said. “It’s a real pleasure to work with them and see the unique assets each docent brings to the program. The interaction with multiple docents makes our program unique. Kids interact with several adults, all passionate about museums and discovery.”

People with a variety of interests and backgrounds have joined the team. All it takes is a willingness to commit to the museum and take part in one of two yearly training sessions. This week, the education department is preparing the next docent class, something school and community liaison Peggy Hetman says is vital to educating our community.

“We’re very fortunate to have the UA Museum of the North in our backyard,” Hetman said. “It’s the place to ask an expert and learn about Alaska’s diversity of people, animals, and land. Whether visiting with family, participating in Family Day programs or other special events, such as Halloween or the open house, the museum has something for everyone.”

More than 386 Fairbanksans have been museum docents, including Denali Elementary School principal Tim Doran, Amy Iutzi, director of the Alaska Adult Education Association, and CTC culinary arts program assistant professor Jennifer Jolis. Almost 72,000 elementary school students have participated in guided field trips since the program’s inception.

As part of the program’s outreach to the local school community, the museum is hosting an Educators’ Night on Thursday, Jan. 26 from 4-6 p.m. for teachers to explore the museum’s offerings and plan a school trip for their class. Pre-registration is required by Jan. 20.

ON THE WEB: museum.uaf.edu

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