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$10 Million Gift Supports Free Museum Visits for NYC Students

Schoolchildren in New York City will get to explore exhibits on dinosaur fossils, meteorites, and ocean life, among others, free of charge as a result of a $10 million gift announced this week to the American Museum of Natural History.

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"For over a century, the American Museum of Natural History has given public school students the chance to imagine they were exploring the bottom of the ocean, the savannahs of Africa, and the universe," said New York City schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in a press release. He applauded the donor, the Richard S. and Karen LeFrak Charitable Foundation, "for their commitment to making science and history fun for our students—and supporting our efforts to graduate every student ready for college."

As I wrote in an EdWeek story last year, science and natural-history museums have an important role to play in helping to inspire and educate young people, and the connections with public schools have gotten more explicit in recent years. For example, the Explora science center in Albuquerque offers Family Science Night for families of children in local Title I schools.

Apparently, the public-school connection has long existed for the world-famous New York City museum. Founded in 1869, the press release notes that it began offering lectures to teachers in 1880 and, by the early 1900s, was loaning mobile cases with specimens to public schools and developing lecture series for schoolchildren.

In 2007, the museum founded the David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Center for Science Teaching and Learning, which develops specialized content to meet current educational standards and the needs of teachers. The press release notes that some temporary exhibition galleries feature specialized content, including pre- and post-visit classroom materials developed by museum educators for different grade levels.

"We hope that the hundreds of thousands of New York City students who come here throughout the year will be inspired to begin lifelong journeys of discovery," said Richard LeFrak in the press release.

Photo: A working six-foot-long mechanical model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, driven by clock-like works, demonstrates movement after it was assembled at the American Museum of Natural History. Stephen Chernin/AP

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