By Linda Haase
The cry went out, “Save the school.”
Boynton Beach city officials got the message loud and clear, and today the two-story 1913 elementary school building is the thriving, award-winning Schoolhouse Children’s Museum. As the museum enters its ninth year, the staff, like the children who visit, is in perpetual motion looking for new ways to educate and enthrall visitors.
The museum, recently chosen the best museum in South Florida in Nickelodeon’s Parents’ Picks Contest for the second year in a row, has found its niche with home-schoolers, elementary students and the pre-school set. It has, say observers, been more of a success than expected.
“It has been a huge success from Day 1. The attendance was double what we expected the first year,” says Ocean Ridge resident Barbara Traylor, who was involved in petitioning to save the school where her mother taught first grade.
The nonprofit museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features interactive exhibits on Florida history, natural history and science, and offers pre-school programs, story hours, enrichment classes for home-schoolers, family fun days and a summer camp.
The staff has put a special emphasis on making the museum accessible to all and offers a Free Family Night once a month. It also wants to add an outreach program to bring the museum to classrooms in schools, says Kelsey Harris, the museum’s operations director.
New exhibits and programs, including a 92-gallon saltwater aquarium and a junior toastmasters class, have been added. Everything here is designed to bring history to life. And to teach children.
“You need to know where you’ve been to know where you are going,” says Ocean Ridge resident and founding board member Ken Kaleel. “It was important to save history to appreciate what is going on today.” Keeping history alive isn’t cheap. The museum depends on a $230,000 annual infusion from the city, along with money from fundraisers and other venues to keep it going.
The third annual dinner dance, Sept. 11, netted $27,000 for the museum and brought in a record number of participants, says Harris. “For that to happen is a good sign that the community still loves the museum very much and wants it to continue. We have become a regional attraction and the crown jewel of family learning and fun in the area.”
Another sign of support came from Boynton Beach City Commissioners Woodrow Hay and Marlene Ross, who each gave the museum $1,000 from their community investment funds in September.
The last fundraiser of the year, a fashion show, luncheon and trunk show fundraiser, featuring the latest season of Lilly Pulitzer’s children and adult fashions, will be held Nov. 6 at Quail Ridge Country Club.
“The future of the schoolhouse is grand. It is such a diamond in the city’s downtown area,” contends Craig Clark, the director of the Boynton Beach library and a member of the museum’s board of directors. The library partners with the museum, often collaborating on programs. “It’s a win-win for both of us,” says Clark.
The museum is at 129 E. Ocean Ave. For more information, visit www.schoolhousemuseum.org or call (561) 742-6780.