New York's Museum of Natural History has always been a place for learning, but now, it's also a place for graduating, as the museum awarded master's degrees to teachers this week. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
Like many schools in New York, Queens Vocational High School never has enough licensed earth science teachers.
"Many of the people who study earth science in college don't wind up going into the field of teaching, or if they do, it's on a college level," said Melissa Burg, principal of Queens Vocational High School.
Last year, Burg needed four earth science teachers but only had one. This year, she was able to hire John Clark, a brand new teacher with a brand new master's degree in teaching earth science. This week, under a giant blue whale, he was one of 20 awarded that degree from the American Museum of Natural History.
"This is not only a milestone for this museum, but also for the museum field and, more broadly, for higher education, because we are the first museum in the United States authorized to grand the PhD degree, as well as the first American museum to offer a free-standing master's program in teaching science," said Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History.
It is an experiment by the state Board of Regents, funded with a federal grant, to see what happens if educators can earn degrees outside of colleges and universities, since those programs are often criticized for not preparing teachers well.
"The museum's tradition around research and the pursuit of knowledge is exactly the answer to what we need in teacher preparation," said State Education Commissioner John King Jr.
"I'm very admiring of what they've done by introducing a new player, a leading museum and a new approach," Futter said.
John is from Illinois but, along with his classmates, he'll now teach in a high-needs New York public school for at least four years, as the tuition-free museum program requires.
The state has only committed to funding the first two cohorts of new teachers, so it is still very much an experiment for the museum. The president said that she hopes to figure out a way to make it part of the permanent collection.