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Cape Girardeau children's museum to seek new executive director
The Discovery Playhouse will see the departure of executive director Jennifer Mullix this month, and the growing Cape Girardeau children's museum will be searching to fill her position by early summer.
Mullix is leaving to pursue graduate studies that will build on her passion for the importance of hands-on learning opportunities. After eight years working in children's museums, she will be entering the education and innovation program at Webster University in St. Louis and hopes to one day teach at the university level to emphasize the significant contribution of "informal education."
Museums, zoos, nature centers, botanical gardens and aquariums are among the unregulated informal education facilities that complement what children are learning in the classroom, Mullix said.
Over the past few years, she said, education reformers have been studying what children are learning and how they are learning it. They have found that the traditional model of teaching to a standardized test generalizes poorly to real-world situations.
Children "weren't really grasping the larger concepts," Mullix said.
Newer teaching methods more clearly connect how material being taught will be used in life, she said, and informal education facilities enhance that learning by creating opportunities to practice what is taught.
At the Discovery Playhouse, Mullix said, children freely explore interactive exhibits and their questions drive the learning process, encouraging the development of abstract thinking, cooperation and problem-solving skills. When they return to the museum, they build on what they learned and their understanding grows.
Mullix was the first permanent executive director hired after the museum opened in 2010. Among the projects she oversaw were completing the first floor to include a dedicated area for children under 4, creating Kim's Secret Water Garden, a professional-quality water play area in memory of Kim Kurka McDowell and finalizing the museum's master plan, which includes expansion to the second floor.
The museum intends to develop a children's theater exhibit, an art-making area, and exhibits on health and wellness, engineering, science, math and music geared toward children ages 7 to 12 that will be housed on the upper level. Downstairs, the focus will be on children ages 8 and younger and exhibits will continue to evolve as they have over the past two years.
"We appreciate all the hard work and effort Jennifer has given to the Playhouse. She definitely helped expand our programming, our community outreach as well as spearheading several successful fundraising events. Now it's time to build on those successes and find a person with the skill set and vision to take us to the next level," said Jeff Brune, president of the board of directors, in a news release Monday.
Brune said the board will meet May 9 to discuss ideal candidate qualifications. A nationwide search brought Mullix to the museum, but Brune said he expects to find a replacement locally.
"I just have a feeling that there are a lot of qualified, passionate applicants locally," Brune said.
Some of Mullix's responsibilities will be dispersed among the existing staff and the board will increase its role during the transition, he said. Mullix will also be available by phone and email from St. Louis to help bridge the gap.
"So much blood, sweat and tears have been put into Discovery Playhouse, I'm sure they will continue to succeed with the great leadership they have in the board," Mullix said.
She also attributed the museum's success to community involvement and said that ongoing community support would be essential to help it fulfill its plans.
More than 60,000 visitors from Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky have traveled to the museum since it opened.
502 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO