Children s Museum of Indianapolis | The Museum Apprentice Program

Lindsey DeLorey

Programs Coordinator, Public and Youth

Children's Museum of Indianapolis

3000 North Meridian St. Indianapolis, Indiana 46208-4716 USA

AAM 2021 EdCom Award for Innovation and Education Award–Pandemic Edition






The Museum Apprentice Program (MAP) aims to develop well-rounded thinkers and active citizens, which requires competency, empathy, responsibility, and community. MAP brings together passionate, hardworking, curious, and innovative teens and gives teens a chance to be creative, meet and work with museum staff, get a behind-the-scenes look at the Museum in action, and most of all, have fun. It serves 30 youth ages 13-18 each year. After starting in the 1960s as a Jr. Docent experience, the focus and curriculum have evolved from training youth to volunteer in the museum to a holistic youth development program centered on project-based learning.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, MAP moved to a virtual format for the first time. The program shifted to support individualized, personal development and well-being. MAP has always included a career exploration component and relied on museum staff as guest experts. In the virtual format, staff provided even more behind the scenes video tours to help youth feel connected to the museum. They planned activities aimed to help youth become socially, morally, emotionally, and cognitively competent. After noting repeated mentions of struggle with mental health and isolation from the teens, staff brought in a social worker to discuss healthy coping mechanisms and strategies for maintaining relationships during a pandemic.

Mindful that youth were witnessing historical events without a space to process and reflect, Adult staff sought out PD on leading difficult conversations in order to provide real-world program content that is timely and relevant. For the 2020-2021 program, staff have led teens in discussions about the Black Lives Matter Protests, the 2020 Presidential Election, and the January Capitol Riots. Program plans often changed the day before or day-of to respond to current events.

MAP participants engage with families during events


Youth Voice at Our Foundation

Simultaneous to these changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth voice has been integrated in every aspect of program development. Over the summer, a small group of teens workshopped the fall program theme and decided that the pandemic project product should be videos. This group called MAP Leaders was first brought together in summer 2019 as an annual summer youth leadership program.

Ten exceptional members of the Museum Apprentice Program are eligible to participate in MAP Leaders, an intensive leadership development program. MAP Leaders is a crash-course intensive program spanning four consecutive days where a small cohort of youth learn from various museum staff how to lead and support their peers. These youth participate in professional training sessions typically provided for staff to develop customer service, mentoring, and project management skills. They are given opportunities to provide feedback, advocate for teen involvement throughout the museum, and create workshops to lead during the following school year. The MAP Leaders then planned and led virtual group interviews for applicants wishing to join the Museum Apprentice Program for the 2021-2022 program year.


Documenting the Pandemic

The 2020-2021 program theme focused on documenting the pandemic, including recording oral histories, surveys, interviews, photography, and videography. Through this work, MAP participants learned about careers both inside and beyond the museum field and practicing important project planning. Youth learned time management skills and set short and long-term deadlines for themselves and their peers with support from adult staff. Youth were responsible for every step of the project to create mini documentaries. They identified an angle to focus on when discussing the effects of the pandemic. One group focused on how the pandemic has affected the arts ranging from local professional artists to high school performance groups. Another group focused on telling the pandemic story from the point of view of young children. Innovative and resourceful, MAP participants interviewed subjects through recorded zoom calls, which were included in their documentaries. MAP participants learned how to conduct an interview and drafted questions to ask subjects while also including data and metrics they sourced and filtered for credibility. A handful of participants expressed interest in sound and video editing so they took on the task of editing the documentaries into their final products. Staff designed movie posters for each documentary and awarded prints of these to each program participant.

This project culminated in a Film Festival held inside the Lilly Theater at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. MAP participants planned the event showcasing their mini documentaries for family and friends. After viewing the documentaries, there was a panel QA session and film awards including best video editing and most creative. It was crucial to staff to celebrate and recognize participant’s work at this festival which was also recorded for later viewing.

Lindsey DeLorey, Public and Youth Programs Coordinator, leading a MAP meeting


Metrics Reinforce Impact

Through extensive program evaluation, staff noted positive outcomes from these changes to the program. Average meeting attendance increased from 66% of program participants to 76% for the 2020-2021 program year. This has continued to increase to an average of 88% of program participants attending each meeting. Youth feedback surveys were conducted in May, Aug, and Dec of 2020 where youth gave timely feedback on meeting length, content, and platforms that highly influenced the virtual program plans and project. Youth leaders now annually lead a focus group of their peers in the program to collect further feedback and brainstorm program topics for future years.


Advice for Working with Teens

Teen programming in a museum setting has shifted drastically as well as the needs of the teens we serve in the last few years. It is all too easy as adult staff to decide what teens need in a program, but the key is to ask them directly, frequently, and respond to their feedback promptly. As a youth-serving professional, I am often faced with unique circumstances and must make difficult decisions when heightened emotions are present. I frequently return to my tried and true method of asking myself what I needed most from adults when I was a teen. This simplistic approach has yet to fail me. I was fortunate to have many adults in my life that recognized my potential and allowed me to autonomously grow and thrive while also always being present with support and compassion. The pandemic caused uncertainty and sometimes fear in all of us. I attempted to be transparent and “real” with the teens even if that meant shifting the meeting agenda last minute to give the teens space to talk through current events and complicated emotions. Overall, this program re-design ensured MAP participants were able to exercise agency and have space to process their own experiences while documenting history at a time of uncertainty.


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