Some children will soon have an entire museum as the backdrop for their learning experience.

All of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s collections and technology — like fossils, holograms and a planetarium — will be at the fingertips of students enrolled in a new charter school. 

The museum is set to pilot the charter school in the fall, with officials hoping to gain the State Board of Education’s approval for public funding the following school year. The goal is to reduce barriers in learning and open students to possibilities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

The charter will expand on the museum’s efforts with the Little Scholars Program, established in October 2020. The program was an extension of the students’ curriculum set by other schools. The charter will allow the museum to create its own curriculum. 

Interim President Kippen de Alba Chu said the Little Scholars Program was a way to test having a school for elementary-aged children. The museum’s existing school served only 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. 

“It’s very different from a traditional school setting,” de Alba Chu said. “Here, you’re actually part of the exhibit. We feel kids actually will learn and retain more information, and they’ll be excited about it.”

Although the museum was closed to the public because of COVID-19, the program was able to keep serving “low-risk pods” of 10 students. The goal was to close virtual learning gaps by providing students with Chromebooks, WiFi and the hands-on guidance they lacked when schools closed. 

“We did a great job of overcoming learning barriers, whether that’s access to meals, access to materials, having a smaller classroom ratio to give that one-on-one experience,” Director of Education Amber Shive said. “We want to equip students to see themselves in STEM fields and be confident learners to reduce those barriers.”

If You Go

WHAT: Fort Worth Museum of Science and History re-opening

WHEN: June 25

HOURS: Friday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.;
Sunday: Noon – 5 p.m.; Weekdays: closed for the Little Scholars Program

WHERE: 1600 Gendy St., Fort Worth, Texas 76107

COST: Non-members: seniors (65+) $14; adults (12-64) $16; juniors (3-11) $12; children (0-2) free/. Members: exhibits admission is free with Noble Planetarium now included with an exhibits ticket.

WEBSITE: fwmuseum.org

CONTACT: 817-255-9300; webmaster@fwmsh.org

Similarly, the charter’s mission is to continue to create equitable learning environments, Shive said. 

“The whole role of a true community museum is to be entrenched in your community and find a way to engage your audience,” Shive said. “The school is going to value diversity and its community and acceptance of differences.”

Although the Little Scholars Program was meant to end after December, the museum extended it through spring as the pandemic surged on. It was then the museum first considered opening a charter. 

The museum’s board voted in May to approve the charter. With an estimated initial budget of $600,000 a year, the museum plans to serve kindergarten, first grade and second grade in its first year. The charter will start with 15 students in each grade.

The school will expand a grade each year. Enrollment is not limited to a particular geographic region.

Its curriculum will be a STEM-centered hybrid form of learning that seeks to create equitable learning environments, Shive said.

“We’ll have our humanities, math, science and everything,” Shive said. “But everything will have that STEM lens. When you’re writing something for the first time, it isn’t your final project. Just like real engineers, they’re continuing to grow and improve as they go along.”

Similar to the Little Scholars Program, the charter school’s classrooms will extend into the museum. Students have access to learning tools like the Facebook-funded “Science on the Sphere,” a high-quality projection of “around 1,500 views of Earth, planetary systems and other animations.”

“A couple months ago there was a huge earthquake off of New Zealand and in real-time we brought up data showing where it occurred,” de Alba Chu said. “They went home and told their parents and then you can see it on the news at night.”

Samantha Morgan’s son and niece participated in the Little Scholars Program.

“They’ve really enjoyed the extra things they get to do after they finish their work like the exhibits and experiments,” Morgan said. “It’s been good, especially during the pandemic for them to have the extra attention and smaller teacher-student ratio.”

Chief Public Experience Officer Douglas Roberts said museum educators want to open children, regardless of their talents and interests, to all professions of science. With such a background, students could go into a broad range of careers, including communications, engineering and even art.

““Pick your favorite thing, and they have all these kinds of stratifications that kids don’t initially think about but we show them,” Roberts said.

The Little Scholars Program coordinator, Abigail Johnson, works as the charter school’s registrar and STEM coordinator. She said the school is already reaching out to get children enrolled.

“We have a pretty robust mailing list of people that love to come to the museum,” Johnson said. “We have a museum preschool here, and we’re using that connection from pre-K into kindergarten so they will continue with us.”

The museum is still looking to hire STEM-focused educators and plans to bring in guest educators and college students from local universities to give presentations. 

“We have pretty good contacts throughout the area,” Johnson said. “(We are) reaching out to any of our community partners.”

The museum is setting up new classrooms on the second floor where the Gary Havener Gallery currently stands.

The school is still in the process of securing state funding. For its first year, it will be a private charter funded through tuition and scholarships. Shive said the museum has not yet finalized tuition costs.

The application process to become a state-funded public charter will begin this October, and the State Board of Education will decide on approval in the spring. 

To Apply

People interested in applying for the museum charter school can email littlescholars@fwmsh.org or call 817-255-9309.

Shive and de Alba Chu said the charter school will be unlike any other in the area, which they believe will give them “a leg up” in the application process.

“They’ve done something like this in Europe before the pandemic,” Shive said. “But we’re the first one locally, for sure.”

Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at brooke.colombo@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Brooke Colombo

I'm a general assignment reporter for the Fort Worth Report. I'm a recent graduate from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in digital and print journalism.

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