How Did Fifth Graders Help A Museum Increase its Local Visitors?

Chrissie Wywrot is a freelance writer and social media expert with focuses on LinkedIn profile development and blogging. She is also an advocate for The ChadTough Foundation which raises funds and awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. Learn more about Chrissie and her business at

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A fresh perspective can make all the difference.

The Virginia Beach Aviation Museum boasted one of the highest “Things to Do” ratings on, yet it was struggling to attract local visitors.

“People come from all over the world to see this place,” said museum director Mike Potter.

“They plan their vacations to see this museum and all the treasures we have, but 90 percent, 9 out of 10, of the people who live Virginia Beach don’t have a clue that we’re even here.”

In 2012, the museum reached out to Virginia Beach Public Schools looking for a partnership to help solve the problem. Nothing came of the idea until 2015 when a new building administrator and a casual conversation reignited the idea.

So fifth graders at Creeds Elementary became partners in a year-long project to drive local traffic to the museum. What did they bring to the table that museum professionals didn’t think of?

1. Fresh Eyes

As they strolled through the hangers at the museum they began rattling off their ideas. They were inspired to start Twitter and Instagram accounts, promote and cover Santa’s visits to the museum, and talk about facts surrounding the planes.

“We saw some of the rarest planes in the world today, and we learned about some of their battle techniques,” said one student, Sam Dockiewicz. “I think some kids would just think it’s really cool seeing planes that still fly that flew 50 to 100 years ago.”

reciprocal experiences

2. Street Cred

Good businesses get referrals. By partnering with the students and offering them free entry with their families, word spread that the museum was a great place to visit.

The museum also worked with the students on a design project that opened the fifth graders’ eyes to aviation.

“I learned so much,” said student Meadow Cortazzo. “One thing I learned was that to create drag, I had to make my wings bigger and heavier. I learned that if I had less weight I could make my tail shorter but if I added weight I had to have a longer tail to balance it.

“I was surprised that my plane turned out really good. It got better each time. The pilots were so nice and helpful. They taught me to change one variable at a time when I tested my planes.”

3. A Focus Group

Through working with the students for a full year, museum officials gained insight into what made a visit fun for elementary school students.

“I believe this experience really harnessed the true power of purposeful partnerships,” said Creeds Elementary principal Casey Conger. “Both organizations truly benefitted.”

Learn more about this partnership by reading Meghan Raftery’s posts on Learning Personalized!


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