March 31, 2017

Keeping Kids Safe

An OMCA Docent’s inspiring story from a Bay Area school visit

By Dodie Lindsay, OMCA Docent

Additional Contributions by Claudia Leung

The Oakland Museum of California is host to an enormous year-round volunteer effort—the Docent corps. OMCA Docents come from all walks of life, and many are retired professionals, with backgrounds in everything from teaching to medicine to business. They train for months in their discipline as they prepare to lead tours. They lead weekly tours for the public of the core galleries, and building highlights and special snack-sized tours at Friday Nights @ OMCA. They are also an essential part of the experience of tens of thousands of school children that visit the Museum each year. One Docent, Dodie, recently shared a surprising—and heartwarming—experience she had with a group of students from a Bay Area school. 
I recently led a tour for a group of fourth grade students from a Bay Area school. Before they entered the gallery, two things were apparent: they were typical, rambunctious fourth graders, and they were almost all Latino. I had a great group of four and the teacher was the chaperone.

At the very beginning, as we were seated on the floor, I noticed that the boys in particular were unusually quiet, their hands in their laps and their eyes cast down. I asked them what they expected to see and what they thought my job was as "a Docent or tour guide.” No one responded to the last question, so I said that I would ask them again at the end.

One boy in particular, whose name is that of a famous 19th/20th century American inventor, was hesitant about touching the topological map that I carry with me, one that other children love to touch. Wondering about his language proficiency, I asked the group in Spanish if they would like to do the tour in English and Spanish, and everyone—including the teacher—agreed. The young American inventor immediately made eye contact and became talkative and active.

The interesting thing: he spoke fluent English. I have an MA in second-language acquisition, so I can confidently say that these children all live in homes where they speak Spanish, but they were born here or have lived here most of their lives. They prefer speaking in English with friends and teachers, but are still fluent in Spanish. Speaking Spanish with them had nothing to do with comprehension.

We had a wonderful tour; the kids were active, curious, talkative, and well-behaved. As we ended, we sat down again, and I asked the kids what they now thought the job of a tour guide was.

The young American inventor said, "to make us feel safe?" 

I could barely hold back the tears. "Did I make you feel safe?" I asked. "Yes," he said.

The teacher asked, "And did you learn something?"  There was a resounding "yes." Still holding back tears, I added, "Did you have fun?" "Yes." 

Making all kids feel safe.  That's now at the top of my list. I'm so glad to be part of the museum community at this moment.

Learn more about becoming a volunteer OMCA Docent in Art, History, or Natural Sciences on our Volunteer page.