We don’t measure our success by the number of visitors, but by the number of friends we make in the community. One such friend is Annie Washburn who volunteers at CMEE helping to teach English to parents whose children are enrolled in the Museum’s coding and science programs. Our Summer Fête fundraiser is helping to raise funds to expand these programs to two new locations on the East End. Annie recently shared how she became a volunteer.
How did you first learn about the Children’s Museum?
Like so many people, I came upon it on a rainy day in the summer, I brought my nephew Vince there to explore. Little did I know, the fun we were having in the galleries of the Museum was only scratching the surface of its reach into the community. Once I started engaging with the Museum as a mom in a morning playgroup, I realized that for so many of us especially in the offseason, CMEE is a lifeline. Now I bring my son Charlie- 2, to play and explore. CMEE is the little engine that could!
Does your son have a favorite exhibit at the Museum? If so, what is it?
It’s fascinating to see his loves throughout the Museum evolve. When he was tiny he loved the mechanical elements, like the interconnected wooden gears. Now at 2 he stands in the soft playroom and watches the big kids jump, bounce, climb and run – I can see his little brain dreaming about jumping into the action. He’s raring to go.
What inspired you to start volunteering?
It was really a case of being “asked to dance.” Leah Oppenheimer who heads community outreach approached me one Tuesday morning after Baby and Me class. I think she saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself – the ability to teach and connect with other moms in the community. The hook that keeps me invested in the Museum are the other volunteers, the families, and a deep belief that diversity makes us all stronger. I think the moms who show up week after week to create opportunities for themselves and their kids are champions for their families – they lead by example.
How do you structure the ESL classes? What topics do you typically cover?
It’s funny, when I started I had lots of plans and structure. My students range from the very beginner to intermediate English speakers, so I’ve learned to be flexible. I think the most important part of any language class is the students’ comfort. I want them to speak out loud to me in English, no matter what their level. We generally divide into groups based on ability and cover topics that include current events, traditions, and comparisons between their home countries and the US. We end up talking about parenting a lot. These moms want to access every opportunity available to their kids.
While the parents in the class have learned English, is there anything you’ve learned from them?
I’d say that I’m learning just as much from them as they are from me. My Spanish has certainly improved! I think the thing I’ve mostly learned from the families is the confirmation that life is about showing up. By staying at it–despite being exhausted from working and mothering–the moms are giving their kids an open door to the future. The kids learning coding while we are working on English will imprint their brains with an essential way of seeing the world.
What’s been the most gratifying part of teaching ESL at the Children’s Museum?
It’s gratifying to feel part of something larger than myself with a group of extremely committed volunteers. There is so much vilification of the “other” right now in our society, and by being hands-on each week with the moms and the kids I gain a lot of hope. The kids range in age from 4-13 and they are as American as kids can be. In one generation that is a huge shift. And when I’m driving home on Monday nights, I think about the wonderful network these moms have formed and their kids preparing to launch.