Catalyst Magazine
Photo by Jena Frick
Port Discovery's Greg May lassos some James McHenry students, to their delight.

Port to Discovery

ekisha 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.”

McCray said that she had been talking to her daughter about this, and then the very next day she was greeted with a happy surprise when she picked up her kids from school. On Jan. 24, 2019, 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. 

“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.”

Smiles abound during a presentation for students at Port Discovery, arranged by UMB.
Smiles abound during a presentation for students at Port Discovery, arranged by UMB.

Port Discovery is a nonprofit institution 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 a partnership between UMB’s Community Campus and Port Discovery as an expansion of an ongoing UMB-funded program called “A Kid’s Port to Discovery: Healthy Habits.” It’s a five-week program at the museum that has been offered to schoolchildren since 2013, and is run by Saifa Poole in the Office of the President. The program teaches children in Baltimore about the importance of eating healthy and staying active. 

“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.”

Illustration by Lisa HaneyThe 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 third year of turnaround work, James McHenry has made great strides in academics and extracurricular achievements including: an increase in math and reading outcomes; an increase in student attendance; a STEM team that is in a national robotics competition; and the introduction of the Ingenuity Program — the most rigorous STEM program in Baltimore City schools. 

“We have the momentum and we are building something special together,” Turk says. “What’s most important is that everybody feels like we’re a team in this together for our 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. Family memberships will help students reach their academic potential by creating a place for positive learning experiences that are both fun and engaging outside of a school setting.

UMB also gave out dozens of yearlong memberships to families at the University’s Community Engagement Center (CEC). UMB also has worked with the children’s museum to fund and provide after-school programming at both the CEC and Port Discovery to several of the University’s partner schools. C

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Jena Frick

Jena Frick is a senior media relations specialist in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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