In 2015, the Big Beaver Falls School District was part of an Early Childhood Community Innovation Zone (CIZ) Grant aimed at increasing family engagement, strengthening relationships between early childhood providers and schools to build birth-3rd grade alignment, and strengthen community collaborations. The Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls was a partner in this 3-year grant, and through her role there, Christine Kroger was able to see the need for more equitable opportunities for the community’s youngest learners and their families.
Beaver County is home to over 168,000 people, with 18,129 of them being under the age of 9 years (Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence Counties have 50,000 children under the age of 10 years), and families need year-round accessible opportunities for play-based learning experiences for young children. Being a lifelong user of museums of all kinds, Christine understood the power of museums to help connect folks to unique experiences and new information that promote curiosity- right in their own backyard. Understanding the cognitive and social-emotional benefits that child-centered play provides for children, Christine knew that a children’s museum would be a place where novel learning and making could occur and where a shared language and understanding could emerge that unifies rather than divides.
Christine spent the next year researching, meeting with experts, and gathering a team, to launch this initiative in Beaver Falls. In 2018, the BF Kids Children’s Museum Advisory Board was formed as a project under the Beaver Falls Community Development Corporation. This was a group of people passionate about bringing an interactive children’s museum to the Beaver-Butler-Lawrence County region, where learning through play could provide equitable, sustainable 21st Century skills for kids of all ages, races, status-levels, and abilities. In 2019, BF Kids incorporated under the new name Neighborhood North Museum of Play, with a Founding Board of Directors of 17 people committed to seeing the vision become a reality. Read more about our name here. This Board, along with Christine, has a deep commitment to the museum’s goals of promoting curiosity, inclusion, child and family development, equity in our educational ecosystem, and the flourishing of our city.
To those ends, Neighborhood North began working in partnership with the Beaver Falls Community Development Corporation and a committee of people interested in the restoration of the iconic News Tribune Building, which contains decades of memories and is centrally located in the core business district of downtown Beaver Falls. The long-term goal of Neighborhood North is to create a community museum/library campus that will link the Carnegie Free Library with the Tribune Building. This new educational campus will serve as a place of community connection and as a catalyst for creative learning and economic development and innovation, right in the heart of the business district. The Tribune Building is also one of three of Beaver County’s catalytic ecodistrict projects selected by River Wise. Read more about it in the Beaver Falls Ecodistrict Vision Statement.
Located midway between Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Beaver Falls is the ideal geographic location to serve Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties. In addition to being part of a county-wide ecodistrict initiative, Neighborhood North is also one of the three anchor projects in the Beaver Falls’ municipal Innovation Corridor. Sister projects include the Portobello Cultural & Life Center and the Penn State B-Hive. Connected by their common goal of inspiring creativity, the three projects will serve families from birth through adulthood, strengthening one another and the established educational ecosystem to support learners as they ascend through the workforce development conduit.
Neighborhood North will bring economic value to Beaver County as it contributes to the region’s desirability, visitation, business revenue and workforce preparedness. Beaver Falls is a great place for families, and we now have a chance to make it even better. At a time in the city when there is significant growth and development, the time is right to invest in our future - to create a unique and vibrant center of intergenerational learning for the youngest members of our community, for their parents and grandparents and all who care for them, and to cultivate the curiosity and creativity of our future citizens.
Proposed conceptual design image of the Tribune Building by evolveEA
Children thrive when their family, school, and neighborhoods partner together, and an overwhelming body of evidence points to play as the best way to equip children with a broad set of flexible competencies and support their socioemotional development (Brookings Institute, 2021). In an increasingly complex world, children’s museums provide a place where kids and their families can experience learning and playing together. The goals of Neighborhood North are to:
In fact, access to museums is so important, that studies indicate that not having these resources available creates an inequitable curiosity gap that impacts both learning and flourishing. Research done by Wilkening Consulting noted that when public health practitioners evaluate when children are flourishing, they assess three things: curiosity, perseverance, and emotional control. They found that in the U.S., only 40% of school-age children assess as flourishing. This extends to adults as well, with one-third of adults reporting that they do not participate in any informal learning activities, thus receive none of the benefits. There are many external barriers that are largely rooted in inequitable social structures that make it harder for children and adults to feed their curiosity over their lifetime and thus thrive with resilience. Evidence also suggests that this curiosity gap actually promotes inequality and reinforces systemic problems and other societal challenges. Expanding availability and proximity to informal learning activities through children’s museums is one way to decrease the curiosity gap and increase flourishing in children and adults, promoting better health for our communities.
With these offerings, children’s museums are quickly becoming a standard feature in a community’s cultural, educational, and entertainment infrastructure, and are the fastest growing segment of the museum industry. As a top attraction for families, children’s museums contribute towards the economic revival of communities, cooperate with other creative place making projects in the city, and support zero to maker programming. In addition, the quality, integrity, and sustainable practices in the design of our space, in our work, and in our relationships will bring benefit to the city and county contributing to the Quality of Place.
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