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Museum guide program reflects NYC diversity

When a young boy loses interest in a museum tour, guide
Hassan Mohamed expertly draws him back in.

And when another child interrupts, Mohamed takes it in
stride. “After I finish this, I’ll answer your question,” he says

Sounds like an experienced tour guide, right?


Mohamed, 19, is a college student participating in an American
Museum of Natural History program
that trains young adults to become tour leaders.

It lets the college students design their own excursions
through the vast institution and uses their enthusiasm to capture the interest
of even younger minds.

The program, now in its 12th year, also reflects the
diversity of New York City. So far
this year, tours have been offered in Cantonese, Spanish, Italian and French,
said Caren Perlmutter, who’s in charge of hiring the students.

Through the Museum Education and Employment Program, about
40 college students, ages 18-21, are hired. They get a month of training, and
are asked to come up with a themed tour that they can teach to children’s
groups over the summer.

While other institutions have roles for college students,
the one at the Natural History museum is unique for the way it allows students
to create their own tours, said Perlmutter.

“They can explore their own interests, they go back into
the halls, go up into the library, use their own resources and design tours on
whatever they find most interesting,” she said.

Mohamed, a Queens resident studying
at Colgate University,
leads the “Attack and Defense” tour, focusing on how animals protect
themselves and attack others. Stops include the Hall of North American Mammals,
the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and of course, the Fossil Halls with all the
dinosaur bones.

He loved the idea of creating his own tour. “It was
definitely something: You could plan it the way you like, show you’re
personally into it,” he said. “You tell kids something that interests
you and hope that it interests them too.”

Among the other offerings this summer: “Precious
Matter,” which takes a look at what people consider to be the most
important things to them, like gold and gemstones, “Disney Tour,”
which teaches children about some of the people and animals they’ve been
introduced to through Disney movies, and “Insignificance,” which
looks at how humans measure up in the history of the world.

Having young tour guides is a way for the museum to better
connect with young visitors, Perlmutter said.

“I think there’s a greater ability to relate to the
students coming in, and a greater desire and willingness from the students
coming in to learn from their peers,” she said.

Teacher Gregory Wood, who came in with the boys on Mohamed’s
tour, agreed.

“It’s not an authoritative figure,” he said.
“I think it’s an excellent way of doing it.”

It makes sense to Mohamed, who has spent previous summers
working with kids in other environments, like his community mosque.

“Kids normally they want a friend rather than someone
that oversees them,” he said.

It certainly seemed to work on the four boys who went on the
tour with Mohamed. By the end of the session, the questions wouldn’t stop
coming as they asked him seeming everything they had ever wanted to know about
natural history.

“It was good,” said Brian Martinez, an 11-year-old
from the Bronx, who was making his first visit to the museum.
“I think it was more fun because he was younger and he made it more

On the Net:

American Museum
of Natural History:

– Associated Press

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