Fralin Museum of Art student docents adapt to teaching virtually

uva fralin museum of artAs University of Virginia students were sent home due to COVID-19 in March, staff at the Fralin Museum of Art had to get creative ­to finish a semester-long docent training course preparing students to lead tours in the museum.

The Fralin scheduled students to lead practice tours for each other via Zoom. As the docents gained confidence, they were eager to try their skills with real students, so the Fralin team lined up 30-minute tours with elementary students for the docents to teach. These sessions yielded rich conversation; the elementary students were enthusiastic and talkative, and their teachers immediately requested additional programs.

Building on the success of these pilot sessions, the Fralin began offering Zoom into Art in May to serve families throughout the region as well as elementary classes by teacher request. Initially envisioned as a 30-minute discussion of one work of art, the Fralin team quickly discovered participants had a strong desire to share their art and make art together. As a result, the staff introduced an art-making component to the program. Each week featured discussion of a different work of art followed by a five-minute art-making demonstration on video. Then, the group would spend the rest of their time making art together. The weekly Wednesday morning program quickly lengthened to 60 minutes. As demand from families surged, the Fralin was able to offer up to three simultaneous sessions by utilizing the newly trained UVA student docents to lead the program.

“Our undergraduate student docents play an integral role in the educational work of the museum,” said Emily Lazaro, docent coordinator at the Fralin. “It fits that we would continue to support their professional growth over the summer when so many museum internships fell through due to COVID-19. Our student educators are dynamic facilitators and they brought creativity, confidence and dedication to the many challenges of teaching with works of art via Zoom.” Between early April and late July, Fralin educators led more than 30 virtual tours and will continue to offer the tours through the fall.

Building on what they learned through piloting Zoom into Art, the Fralin team resumed Early Visions – their after school arts mentoring partnership with the Boys and Girls Club – as a weekly virtual program for June and July. While the Clubs reached out to their youth audience to enroll participants, Fralin staff contacted their regular UVA student mentors and assembled packages of art supplies and snacks to send to the children. Staff from both organizations convened weekly with Club members while UVA student mentors Zoomed in from around the country.

“Continuing the Early Visions program virtually this summer allowed us to support the children’s artistic interests in meaningful ways,” said Riley McCall, tour coordinator at the Fralin. “Club members were excited to receive deliveries of art supplies at home and they continued working on their projects long after the session ended for the day. They were eager to share with their mentors the following week.”

“This moment of necessity has allowed the Fralin educational team to grow, to find new ways to work and teach,” said Matthew McLendon, the J. Sanford Miller Family Director. “As a university museum it’s our responsibility to be as creative and innovative as possible during this pandemic. I am proud of our team and our students for finding ways to stay relevant and connected to our community.”

All current virtual offerings can be found on the Fralin from Home page of the website.


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