With online activities and dancing dinos, Discovery Station keeps spirits - and learning - alive
Discovery Station in downtown Hagerstown is, by its nature, a hands-on, in-person kind of place. Children and families gather at the museum to play, learn and discover through science, technology, engineering, art and math-based exhibits and programs.
Through creativity and community support, the museum is staying active and engaged during the coronavirus pandemic shutdown.
“Discovery Station has been closed since March 14,” Executive Director Brittany Wedd said. “We are working really hard to provide information to parents about how to do STEAM activities that we would normally do at the museum.”
Wedd said the organization’s Facebook page has been key to maintaining contact with members and the community.
“We’ve posted activities on our page like Earth Day composting, a Mentos and Coke science activity that causes a geyser-like eruption that kids really enjoy,” she said. “We outlined instructions for that and explained the science behind it.”
Other posts have included “How to Make Ice Cream in a Bag” and a hoop gliders airplane activity.
“Kids are really enjoying them,” Wedd said. “It’s interesting too because parents are asking questions.”
Some parents have even sent videos to Discovery Station staff with similar activities, asking if the scientific concepts are essentially the same.
“We break it down and educate the parents as well as the kids,” Wedd said.
Discovery Station has been working with Janet’s Planet/Explore Mars, a free online astronaut academy through which kids can meet astronauts and join in learning programs. Several area children have participated, she said.
More than that, the Discovery Station Facebook page is a vibrant flutter of frequent activity and interaction, with everything from Sesame Street self-care for parents and birthday wishes and community check-ins to word searches and kid-friendly lessons on ticks, social distancing, climate change and much more.
The museum is hosting a virtual science fair for children grades kindergarten through five in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Participants choose a topic, conduct an experiment, then create and present an exhibit board via video. Deadline for entry is noon on Friday. Awards will be given to creators of the top projects.
“A couple have already caught our eye,” Wedd said.
Kelly Foster of Maugansville said her son, William Foster, 6, participated in the fair with an experiment testing whether salt affects how things float or sink. William loves being around people and the quarantine has been hard on him, she said.
“It helps him to see the videos they post each day, to participate in the fair and to get feedback. He likes still being able to know that he is participating with other people even though he can’t see them,” Foster said.
Fun with Rex and Tyra
The vivacious mascots of Discovery Station, brown-hued Tyra and bright-green Rex the T-Rexes, who make special appearances at the museum and at downtown events, have been the stars of humorous videos that are getting a lot of attention.
“Rex launched into his acting career when we closed down initially and we were sanitizing and disinfecting the museum,” Wedd said. “Rex got really involved in the cleaning process and he chose to dance, and that cleaning video just took off.”
Since then, Discovery Station posts videos nearly every day of the slightly larger-than-human-sized dinosaurs dancing, conducting experiments, mowing the lawn and other zany activities. The dinosaurs have sent more than 250 birthday greetings to members of the Discovery Station community since the quarantine began.
“Everybody likes dinosaurs,” Wedd said. “It’s just the appeal of being funny and having fun in a really stressful time. It relieves some of the stress of the pandemic. Kids and adults enjoy them.”
Jen Moore of Smithsburg said her daughter, Emma Moore, 6, “loves the Rex videos and looks forward to them every day.”
The family lived in within walking distance of the museum in Hagerstown and visited there several times a week until they moved a few years ago. They maintain a membership and still visit regularly.
“It’s such a great place. We just love it,” Moore said. “The entire staff just loves their jobs so much. It’s hard finding anywhere else where you just walk in and you feel the love.”
Discovery Station posts are a theme of conversation among people Moore knows and are lifting the spirits of people in the area.
“They are amazing. They have helped so many people through this (time of quarantine). They have kept such a positive attitude. It’s just incredible,” Moore said.
Hat-tip to heroes
In an effort to recognize the positive efforts of other individuals in the community who are going above and beyond to assist during the coronavirus outbreak, Discovery Station is hosting a COVID-19 Hero program. Nominations were accepted through April 24.
“There are people doing different things, working the front lines to help COVID patients, working to improve daily life, making masks,” Wedd said. “Anything to alleviate the stress of what’s happening right now.”
Nominees were plentiful and included healthcare workers, daycare providers and children who created videos educating other children about the virus and how to effectively wash their hands. Winners will receive medals by mail and their profiles will be posted online.
“It’s good to see all the positivity coming,” Wedd said.
Discovery Station attendance has grown significantly in recent years. During 2019, it surpassed 25,000. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, the museum was on track to set a new record in 2020.
“This year, we had more than 3,000 visitors in January alone. We were anticipating reaching 30,000, but obviously with the closure, we will have a drop,” she said.
Because the nonprofit museum is closed and its revenue streams are shut down, it has established an Emergency Coronavirus Closure Relief Fund. An anonymous donor has pledged to match up to $10,000 toward the effort. For the week beginning April 26, the fund had raised more than $5,100.
“It costs Discovery Station more than $10,000 a month to stay in operation between rent and utilities,” Wedd said.
Museum experts around the country are anticipating the permanent closure of many museums.
“We are seeing our supporters really coming out to ensure that we will survive this storm,” she said. “Members, staff, our board, volunteers, different agencies and companies around the county are behind us. They see that what we do matters and we are really grateful for all they have done for us.”
Top photo: William Foster, 6, of Maugansville, participated in the Discovery Station Stay-at-Home Virtual Science Fair. He conducted an experiment testing how salt affects whether objects float or sink. (Submitted photo)