By Sarah Rose
Curator of Education, New Bedford Whaling Musuem
We are often asked why a museum would get involved with running a high school apprenticeship program. Our answer is that the role of the New Bedford Whaling Museum has broadened dramatically in recent years. This museum, located in a socio-economically diverse city, acts as a community partner that supports and enhances the experience of local citizens. The museum seeks to present a broad, interdisciplinary education by providing resources to promote learning for every age, including, and perhaps especially, our youth. The apprenticeship program helps us infuse the city’s cultural wealth into our programming and better reflect the city’s demographics in our staffing, as many former apprentices now work at the museum while obtaining their college degrees.
Strong leadership from the local public school district and social service agencies are crucial to the success of the apprenticeship program. The museum works closely with both to support our apprentices and their families. High school guidance counselors and teachers recommend students they believe will benefit from our program. Social workers connect our apprentices to vital resources. The museum serves as a liaison for the apprentices, as we have the unique opportunity to develop personal relationships with them to see them through their transitions from high school student to college graduate to highly valued employee. If a student stops attending our program, we make sure to follow up with them because chances are they’re missing school too. We organize a coordinated effort among social service agencies, teachers, and family members to help get the student back on track.
New Bedford Whaling Museum apprentices take a selfie in front of the world’s largest ship model, Lagoda.
Ultimately, we want our apprentices to succeed in life, which increasingly requires a post-secondary education. When they enroll in college, most of our apprentices are among the first in their families to do so. Standardized test preparation, college visits and selection, and the application process are unfamiliar to many of our students. We guide our students through the process and also nurture a vibrant alumni network that supports and encourages younger apprentices as they navigate college campuses for the first time. Members of our Board of Trustees’ Education Committee assist in arranging housing and scholarships. The opportunity presented for higher education and ongoing support encourages our apprentices to remain committed and resilient even when they encounter a twist in the road on the way to reaching their goals.
So, when I am asked “Why should museums get involved?” I answer, “Because we have identified the need in our community, have resources both financial and physical, and access to the know-how to make a difference that will have a significant impact on New Bedford’s future!” The apprentices aspire to great things. It’s their positive energy that urges the museum to leave no stone unturned and do whatever is in our power to help The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s apprentices break the cycle of poverty and succeed.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s High School Apprenticeship Program offers underserved high school students a unique opportunity to be immersed in a museum culture, and earn a competitive stipend while gaining college and work readiness skills. Prior to acting as “ambassadors” both in the museum and in the community, apprentices are mentored in a structured program. In a community that sees less than 70% of its high school students graduate, we are especially proud that since the program’s inception 6 years ago, 100% of our apprentices have graduated from high school and 100% of them have been accepted into post-secondary programs.
Sarah Rose has worked as the Curator of Education at the New Bedford Whaling Museum since July, 2014. Her primary responsibility is to oversee the museum’s educational efforts by implementing its strategic vision and communicating the educational mission and goals to various audiences. Ms. Rose is an experienced teacher and project manager who oversees staff responsible for the apprenticeship program, internship program, a comprehensive K-12 school visitation program, volunteer programs and outreach.