The Bell Museum is excited to announce a new project that is focused on diversifying the museum’s nature-based learning opportunities to better meet the needs of communities of color in the Twin Cities. Still in the initial phases, this project will both foster partnerships that help us engage with the community and implement staff training at the Bell that will prepare us to better serve the community.
The project, Building Relationships for Delivering Community-Responsive Nature-Based Learning Programs, aims to offer nature-based learning (NBL) experiences that are developed for youth and families of color in our community and overcome barriers to access. We will work with community experts to determine shared goals and build partnerships, build Bell staff expertise so we can better serve our communities, and create a planning process that responds to the needs of the community.
Access to NBL, which refers to learning that takes place outside or has nature infused into the pedagogy, is important for many reasons. Having access to NBL can help students in the classroom, by improving grades, sparking curiosity, and sustaining interest. It can also foster healthier lifestyles outside of the classroom, by modulating stress, enhancing attention, and increasing social connection, physical fitness, and creativity. NBL can also nurture pro-environmental behaviors by encouraging protective attitudes towards the environment.
Despite these benefits, NBL is often not made available to all people equally and local communities of color, in particular, face barriers to accessing nature. This project aims to broaden and diversify the Bell’s outreach, focusing on the needs of Black, Somali, Hmong, and Hispanic/Latinx communities. As a Museum Without Boundaries, creating programs that are useful, culturally relevant, and accessible to the communities we serve is crucial to our mission.
We’re interested in nurturing strong relationships with local organizations and institutions serving youth and families of color. This is one of the reasons why the Bell is partnering with Children & Nature Network (C&NN), a national leader in work to reconnect children with nature. This partnership will serve to support a community engagement and planning process to guide the Bell’s NBL programming and will provide Bell staff with the necessary training to implement the programming.
With support from C&NN, the initial phase of this project will involve identifying community-based organizations to work with during the summer. During this phase, the Bell intends to conduct focus groups and pilot activities. These pilot activities will help the Bell understand community needs and offer insight into where our team may fit in to help.
In addition to building NBL opportunities with community partners, the Bell is working to build staff expertise so that we can better serve our communities. Staff from the Public Engagement and Science Learning team have completed an initial orienting workshop on community engagement, and will continue to receive support and training as the project moves forward.
This initiative is funded by both the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund, a part of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment, and a mini grant from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE). Legacy funds support diversity, access, and inclusion initiatives at the Bell Museum, like the Nature-Based Learning program, where our overarching goal is to expand access to the Bell Museum and its resources, with special consideration of the increasingly diverse population of our state. Additionally, the mini grant from IonE will allow the Bell to provide continued support to collaborating community partners beyond the initial partnership-development phases—which is a key component of this project.
We are excited about the opportunity to diversify our NBL programming at the Bell, and grateful to contribute to the ongoing effort to build an environment that is diverse, inclusive, and accessible to all.