Inaugural museum program trains teen docents

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Roshni Sudhakar, right, gives a demo tour of the Los Altos History Museum’s apricot-cutting shed. This summer the museum launched a Teen Docent Program, which taught local high school students how to conduct tours of the museum.

Roshni Sudhakar has been fascinated with the past since she had a particularly passionate middle school history teacher, so when she heard about an opportunity to serve as a teenage docent at the Los Altos History Museum, she jumped at the chance.

“I thought, a history museum – that’s perfect for me,” Sudhakar said. “I want to learn history and I want to … share my knowledge and inspire others to learn more about history.”

Sudhakar, a rising junior at Homestead High School, is participating in the inaugural year of the Los Altos History Museum’s Teen Docent Program.

She and more than a dozen other local students spent last week completing a training seminar, where they learned about the museum, the area’s history and how to conduct compelling tours.

“We think it’s going to be a really fun new addition to the museum’s offerings, to have the fresh energy, the creative ideas (and) the humor of these teens,” said Elisabeth Ward, the museum’s executive director.

During last week’s training, each teen was assigned a particular area of the museum to specialize in and prepared a sample tour that he or she gave to the rest of the group on Friday.

Sudhakar focused on the cutting shed behind the museum, which features a table where apricots were historically cut. Other docents focused on topics such as the piano and entertainment in the J. Gilbert Smith House and the model trains inside the history museum.

The idea was that with each docent focusing on one particular area, he or she could dive more deeply into the history, and in turn teach the rest of the group about that part of the museum, exhibition curator Amy Ellison said.

Ellison, who led the weeklong training program, said the teens weren’t given any particular script, but instead had the freedom to personalize their tours.

“Whatever they’re drawn to or interested in, they can highlight those things,” Ellison said.

The week also included a visit from a couple of Winchester Mystery House staff members, who shared tips on giving an engaging tour.

Now that teen docents are trained, they will be scheduled to give tours throughout the school year. Each student will work at least two to four hours per month.

Part of the museum’s strategic plan is to expand operating hours, and the teen docents may help make it possible, Ward said. Currently the museum is open noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

Given the success of this initial year’s program, Ward said she expects to continue it next year, allowing students to stay on for a second year if they wish.

“This museum is here to keep telling the story of Los Altos. We think that the teens are great ambassadors for telling that story,” Ward said. “They need to be the ones to carry the story forward to the next generation.”

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