Staff and educators at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) have spent the last six months of this global pandemic pouring their time and resources into supporting the community the best way they know how: by sparking people’s curiosity with engaging science learning experiences. The 76-year-old science organization has opened its doors—both physically and virtually—to the community through various formats of educational resources.
"Our focus has been on supporting the community through providing quality science learning experiences in new ways,” said Erin Graham, OMSI president and CEO. “We have engaged with families, schools, and community partners to evolve our programs and services, and have put our resources to use developing innovative programs to meet significant educational needs in our community.”
OMSI does not receive regular state or federal funds for operating expenses, which is why private philanthropic support plays a crucial role in the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission of engaging people across the Pacific Northwest with science learning. Despite a decreased revenue flow, the organization has been hard at work in the community through a suite of new programming that includes OMSI Homeroom—an onsite childcare service, Virtual Programming that extends science learning into virtual classrooms, and Science At Home—curated, digital content for K-8 students focused on weekly themes.
Keeping schools closed and initiating online learning will help limit the spread of COVID-19; however, it also presents a significant challenge for families, especially students from underserved communities, single-parent households, and working families.
Drawing on experience providing emergency childcare for essential workers this spring, OMSI developed programming and launched OMSI Homeroom, a museum-based, full-time childcare program developed to serve working families this fall by providing distance learning support and supplemental science instruction in small student groups.
"We knew that regardless of how the school year tuned out, working families would need a safe place for their students to go while caregivers were working,” said Brian Berry, OMSI classes and outreach director. “In the end, our main goal is to help students through their online learning, and then supplement their education with fun and engaging science programming.”
Homeroom supports students who are the most at-risk of falling behind academically and those who are in the greatest need of support. Thanks to the support of individual and corporate donors, two-thirds of Homeroom students have received financial assistance, alleviating the burdens our vulnerable families face during this time.
Across the region, teachers in virtual classrooms and caregivers supporting their students at home are benefitting from OMSI’s trusted outreach programs that have been adapted into new virtual formats. These fun and engaging OMSI experiences—aligned to curriculum and content standards—infuse inspiration and excitement into the day, no matter where a student lives.
We have adapted most of our regular outreach offerings and onsite groups labs into digital programming. Despite the fact that we’re not out in the community as much as we would normally be, we still want to be a resource for youth, families and schools,” said Berry. “We’re especially excited for the opportunity to serve new audiences, and positively impact people and organizations we’ve never had the opportunity to reach before.”
All of OMSI’s virtual programs are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
"My team and I are very excited for the opportunity to support students at home, and one of the program areas that I’m most looking forward to is space science. We have some stellar classes about space that students, caregivers, and teachers are really going to enjoy,” said Berry.
Science At Home
Science At Home is a new program that provides free digital Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) content for K–8 students and the online community seeking additional educational support. Content is organized by weekly themes and engages learners in a variety of educational goals. The needs of caregivers and parents will vary widely during these months of distance learning, and this kind of curated, high-quality digital content will be especially important for the families hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The coronavirus pandemic has revealed inequities in many aspects of our lives. One of these being access to education, specifically Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) education,” said Ashley Jamison, OMSI classes and outreach coordinator.
In considering what the upcoming school year might look like, the education team wanted to ensure that every student and every caregiver had access to engaging science content.
"Science at Home program is a continuous, curated, and reliable source of free science education that anyone—under any learning environment—can access. I love it because we are continuing OMSI’s mission by digitally dismantling barriers to equity and access, and providing science learning experiences for all,” said Jamison.
Due in part to their efforts to support the community, OMSI was recently awarded a one-time Coronavirus Relief Fund Cultural Support (CRFCS) grant award for $1.4 million, which will help the institution deliver mission-based experiences and programs.
Despite this generous grant and the financial support it brings, OMSI anticipates a significant revenue loss over the next year. It is becoming increasingly apparent that OMSI, like hundreds of other cultural institutions around the state, will be operating at a reduced capacity for the foreseeable future, which impacts revenues further.
"Our mission to engage people in science learning and to help them build skills to make evidence-based decisions has never been more important than it is now. We firmly believe that everyone needs science understanding and data to navigate the times ahead,” said Graham. “We are offering high-quality science learning opportunities that engage and support families across the socio-economic spectrum. With your support, we can expand our programs and reach more families through our full-time childcare program and outreach programming at reduced or no charge.”
To learn more about all the work OMSI is doing to support the community, please visit them online.
Founded in 1944, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is one of the nation’s leading science museums, a world-class tourist attraction, and an award-winning educational resource for the kid in each of us. As a private, non-profit organization, OMSI does not receive any government funding, but relies on earned and contributed revenue for its operating expenses. OMSI operates the largest museum-based outdoor science education program in the country and provides traveling and community outreach programs that bring science learning opportunities to schools and community organizations in every county in Oregon and throughout the region. OMSI is located at 1945 SE Water Avenue, Portland, OR 97214. For general information, call 503.797.4000 or visit omsi.edu. Connect with the museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.