The COVID pandemic has had a heartbreaking effect on people and communities all over the world – but one group that’s been impacted in devastating ways: Children. Although children have been doing the very best they can to adapt to a world that they have no control in, the truth is that children are struggling.

They’re struggling with learning, focusing on and enjoying virtual school. They’re struggling with not being able to connect with or create meaningful relationships with others – with many children going weeks or months or more without spending time around children their own age. And, they’re struggling with mental health, needing outlets to relieve their stress and express themselves.

At Port Discovery, we want to do all we can to help children and families at all times, including during the pandemic, and do whatever we can to help them play, learn, connect, dream and grow despite the challenging times.

A great example of a program that’s been helping do just that: Our Youth Advisory Council.

Port Discovery’s Youth Advisory Council is a program aimed at helping children build communication skills, develop leadership skills, build connections with others, and give them a voice in our Museum and in their community.

The program has been held several times over the course of Port Discovery’s history – and each time, the program and participants have made lasting impressions on our minds and hearts. This year was no different.

Port Discovery Children’s Museum Youth Advisory Council: 2020

This year’s Youth Advisory Council program, funded by the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, was held virtually from September 2020 to December 2020, and included 10 students from various Baltimore City Schools who met once a month with Port Discovery staff and artists to talk, to share stories and feelings, to develop communication skills, to work on projects together, and to create an oral history project to showcase an event in their life, their family, or their community.

In addition to providing time to connect and learn together, participants in this year’s Youth Advisory Committee also received hot meals from minority-owned businesses to enjoy during each session. Youth also received hot spots, tablets, art materials and tools like microphones, cameras and lights to help them participate in the program and produce and record their stories.

Youth Advisory Council Results

Over the course of four months, the students, families and adults that participated in Port Discovery’s Youth Advisory Council were able to connect and build a virtual community that helped them thrive.

  • Shane, a 3rd grader from Baltimore City, received a high-quality microphone as part of his “toolbox” to tell stories and record his oral history. As any child will do, he pretended to sing, but as he played with the microphone and built his confidence up, he realized that a whole new world had opened. You see – Shane loves weather (he knows weather can make or break a fishing trip) – and through this program, he learned how to record the sound of falling rain while eliminating other noises.
  • Jordyn, a 5th grader from Baltimore City, tried her hand at drawing a cat as part of her storytelling project. She found that it was awfully hard to draw a cat that won’t sit still – but through photography, she could capture her cat through different angles and settings and then use those photos to draw her cat in a cute pose.
  • Airianna, a 5th grader from Baltimore City, shared the story of her sister Sammy, who passed away five years ago. Although a heartbreaking moment in her life, through storytelling and art, Arianna captured memories of her sister and kept her good memories and friendship alive.
  • Aliyah, a 6th grader from Baltimore City, used drawings and storytelling to capture and share the feelings of pride and accomplishment she witnessed in her family when her brother graduated from school.
  • Shanyla, a 5th grader from Baltimore City, at first gasped at surprise when she received compliments from her peers and the Port Discovery team. Over time, she learned to embrace her talents – and compliments about them. She also learned about being a big sister – and found it helpful to see other children her age interacting with their own siblings at home.

This year’s Youth Advisory Committee created impressive stories that documented important parts of their lives, which you can see in this impressive scrapbook showcasing some of the students’ work!

Students also participated in a service-learning project. This year, the Council selected to work with the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) given its proven track record of helping children and their families in times of great need. As part of the project, the Council crafted a “get well” message, designed cards, and brainstormed age-appropriate gifts that Port Discovery Children’s Museum could purchase. The result was 40 get-well cards. Each card was accompanied by a deck of cards, wikki sticks, and an activity. The cards and gifts served as an encouraging message to children and families calling the Ronald McDonald House home as they sought treatment, therapy, and support.

We are beyond proud to have been part of the community of children and families that formed as the 2020 Youth Advisory Council took place. We are so proud of what our students learned and produced over the course of this program – but we are most proud of the relationships formed and the relief that learning through play provided each and every one of us along the way!

Special thanks and gratitude to Baltimore Children & Youth Fund who helped make this important program possible!