COVID-19 and the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association

Update: July, 2020

Dear Members and Supporters of the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association:

We hope that this finds you, your family and loved ones safe and well. The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted all of us in some way. It has been difficult for everyone and continues to be as we find our way through what we have all been calling “the new normal.” The MMA has found itself forced to make hard decisions over the last four months – decisions we never imagined we would have to make. But we have done these in our bid to keep our staff, our members, our visitors, and the island community safe – and we have done so following the protocols set out by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

What We Have Been Doing:

Since late March, the MMA staff has been hard at working finding ways to continue to connect with you and to bring you hands-on science based virtual learning. We offered a virtual version of our very popular winter Nantucket Science Festival, as well as online activities, content, and science challenges. Our educators worked throughout the spring with island teachers to provide STEM curriculum ideas and hands-on, at-home activities.

Since the end of May, we have been offering our Science Speaker Series every Wednesday night at 7PM for free on Zoom and we have continued to offer content and activities that you can do at home, on the beach, or in the moors with your family. For an organization which believes in hands-on learning as our namesake believed in, it’s been difficult to not meet you personally in an intimate setting but the staff has risen to the challenge and found new ways to keep you excited about and engaged in the land, sea, and sky of Nantucket.

Our doors may be closed but we have been hard at work – keeping the animals in our care healthy, safe, and well fed for when they can see you again; keeping the collections safe and with continued care and conservation, continuing our research in our various departments, developing ways to bring astronomy Open Night to your home virtually (stay tuned!), and working on new socially-distanced programs – with mask wearing at all times – as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts allows and dictates to keep us all safe.

2020 Summer Limited Programming Now Open:

We are happy to say that now that we are in Phase Three as of the second week of July, the staff have been able to fully develop limited programs for you to take part in with us. It has been a challenge, as again, we are so very focused on hands-on learning and at this time such a concept is not conducive with the mandates that we must follow. But we have come up with some fun and engaging activities – some new ones and some old favorites that have been re-imagined. These will be small groups of eight people or fewer and attendees and staff will be required to social distance and wear masks for the entire program. We have private program options available as well for just your family if you feel more comfortable – we are happy to accommodate in that way as long as we are following all the guidelines dictated by the Commonwealth and the protocols established by the MMA. In many cases, we have been stricter and that is to better ensure your safety and that of the MMA staff.

During all of this, we do ask for your help and patience. As you know, we had to cancel our internships and volunteer programs in late April due to the concerns surrounding the Pandemic. Thus, it is our small but dedicated year-round staff who will be the sole leaders of these programs, in particular the Education Department led by Kim Botelho our Director of Education. We have discounts available for year round island families and you can contact Kim Botelho directly at kbotelho@mariamitchell.org. She is also happy to discuss private programming with you. Please remember that you will need to have masks on for the entire program, even while social distancing – it’s the way we can keep you, your family, the MMA staff, and the island community safe and healthy.

We look forward to seeing you in person – at a distance! – and we are excited to welcome you back to share the Spark! of Science with you. Because remember: Science will inform us. Community will heal us.

The Board of Directors and Staff of the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association

“There will come with the greater love of science greater love to one another. Living more nearly to Nature is living farther from the world and its follies, but nearer to the world’s people; it is to be of them, and for them, and especially for their improvement.” – Maria Mitchell

Update: April, 2020

Dear Members and Supporters of the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association,

The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted every one of us, both from a personal as well as an economic perspective. Most of us know someone who has become seriously ill, is facing financial uncertainty, or has lost their job. It is heartbreaking. This outbreak has forced the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association to make a decision that would not seem possible even four short weeks ago.

Since the onset of the Pandemic, the MMA’s Staff and the Executive Committee of the MMA Board of Directors have been evaluating options as to how we might continue operations while ensuring the health and safety of our staff, interns, volunteers, visitors, and our Island community. Based on our analysis, we determined that we need to cancel our award-winning Discovery Camp program this summer. And although it is unlikely that we will be opening our facilities in June, we are hopeful that we will be able to open in some capacity, and offer some programming, as insights are gained and it is safe to do so. We have also cancelled our major summer fundraiser, the Stargazer Gala, that was scheduled for July 9. We are working on an alternative event to the Gala and will keep our Members and Supporters informed as plans are solidified.

The Basis for Our Decision:

I’d like to share with you the thoughts that have gone into this very difficult decision. The decision was based on several factors regarding how we prepare and train our interns, as well as how we operate our facilities and programs.

1) Unlike most organizations on Nantucket, we depend on over fifty college and high school interns, as well as volunteers, to staff our Discovery Camps, Aquarium, Natural Science Museum, Mitchell House, Vestal Street Observatory and Open Nights at Loines Observatory throughout the summer.

2) The interns typically arrive in mid to late May and go through an intensive training program for two to four weeks depending on their program area. As of this date, the Massachusetts Stay at Home Order is through May 4 and could be extended.

3) Most of our thirty or so exceptional and enthusiastic college interns require housing at the MMA. Although our housing is very comfortable by any standard, the interns must share rooms, bathrooms, and cooking facilities and we are seriously concerned about issues around virus transmission. The welfare of our interns and students, and our island community, is our primary concern and will not be compromised.

4) Without these interns and volunteers, we cannot operate at or near full capacity.

5) The Town of Nantucket will not be issuing any event permits until at least July 1 and that uncertainty makes it nearly impossible to schedule an event, such as our Stargazer Gala with all of its commitments and costly obligations.

Moving Forward:

Over the last month, we have found ways to virtually share content and experiences that you have come to know and look for from us, such as the Nantucket Science Festival which was held in a virtual form and which is still available online for people to participate in via at-home experiments and activities. Our various social media platforms are being updated regularly with activities, content, and science challenges. Our educators have been working with Nantucket teachers to provide STEM curriculum ideas and hands-on, at-home activities. And although the Pandemic significantly limits the MMA’s summer offerings, we remain optimistic that we will be able to offer limited programming later into the summer, perhaps even a few modified Discovery Camp programs. We are working on ways to continue our popular Science Speaker Series every Wednesday night whether it be virtually or in person with social distance seating. We hope to offer limited capacity tours at the Mitchell House and are planning ways for you to continue to meet the animals, bird watch, and observe the night skies with us.

Our education programming will continue. Our research will continue. So please stay tuned.
Further, the MMA will be reaching out to Discovery Camp parents within a week with instructions and options regarding refunds.

So while our doors may be closed physically, our doors are still open virtually and we are hoping to widen that entry later this summer.

Impact:

This decision is very difficult and will result in a significant reduction in our income, but we feel strongly that this is the right decision for the safety of our staff, interns, volunteers, visitors, and our Island community. We, like so many other non-profits and businesses on the island, realize this will be disappointing to people but we need to find ways to continue to protect all of us. The Maria Mitchell Association has been educating and inspiring learners of all ages for over 100 years. Now more than ever, we hope you will continue to support the MMA and all of the island organizations and businesses who make Nantucket so much of what it is. In the next few days, I will be in touch with specific ways you can help the MMA during this challenging time.

Please know that you are all on our mind. We will miss seeing you and your wonderful and curious children and grandchildren during the early summer, and yet we will remain hopeful that we will welcome you back to the MMA before the summer’s end. In the meantime, remember, creating that “spark,” that moment of discovery and excitement, will continue at the Maria Mitchell Association!

Update: March 19, 2020

The MMA would like to assure its member, visitors, collaborators, and the general public that we continue to monitor the situation on Nantucket, in our country, and the world.  We all appreciate the impact this is having on you, your families, friends, colleagues, and everyone.  To that end, the MMA has been closed since March 13.  We will not be running any programs, classes, Open Nights, or other programming.  We will reassess around May 4 and make further decisions based on what we are being told by the Town of Nantucket, the state and federal government, and the CDC.

Many of our staff can work from home and others have the ability to social distance while here – working in various buildings alone.  We want you to know that our work at the MMA still continues despite this COVID-19 outbreak.  Our research in the field and in the skies above continues.  Planning of summer classes and camps continues.  We continue to care for our animals that live with us year –round or that are over-wintering with us for various reasons.  We continue to be here for you even if it may be virtually or in planning for the future when this outbreak ends.

Please take a look at what we offer on our website.  The Science Festival scheduled for March 21 was cancelled but it lives on on our website with many science challenges your family can do at home.  Celebrate Women’s History Month and the Centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment by taking a look at the lesson plans related to Maria’s life using primary sources (all right on the webpage as various documents) for several age groups on the “For Students” page.  Read through Deputy Director and Mitchell House Curator’s blog, “Maria Mitchell’s Attic” to learn more about Maria, Nantucket, and the time in which Mitchell lived.  Connect to our biological collections and read up on the state of the harbor.  And learn more about the night skies by taking a listen to the MMA’s Director of Astronomy on current and past “Looking Skyward” on WCAI.

In closing: Be safe, adhere to strict social distancing guidelines established based on sound science, wash your hands many times per day, and hurry back to Nantucket when this crisis is fully over.  We are looking forward to seeing you once again.