The Docent program at the San Diego Natural History has come a long way since that first meeting in February 1968. At that time guided tours in San Diego museums were unheard of, and the word “docent,” meaning “teaching guide,” was new to many people. The purpose of the new Docent program was to make the Museum interesting and accessible to children and their families and to teach them what a regional museum offers.
The first training class consisted of five lectures and a rigorous exam. Fifteen Docents passed that first class and continued their preparations, familiarizing themselves with the Museum exhibitions in anticipation of offering tours in September. But the Educational Activities Department had other ideas. The director announced that tours had already been scheduled, and from May 10–June 7 of that first year more than 1,600 students were guided through the Museum by the Docents. Five years into the program, more than 33,700 students had received Docent tours.
Early on, teachers of disabled children requested a special tour for blind, partially-sighted, and hearing-impaired students. Their students could not benefit from tours of specimens behind glass cases they could not see, or from tours they could not hear. Under the direction of Fay Dalton, Docents worked throughout the summer to put together a portable tour incorporating the senses of touch, feel, smell and taste. The Tactile Mobile Museum was born and was highly successful. Out of these beginnings grew the Docent outreach effort that now includes eight programs for preschool–primary grades and senior citizens.
Always looking for new ways to educate the public about the rich biodiversity of our region, Docents have developed tours of Fossil Mysteries and other exhibitions as well as interpretive carts filled with items to touch and feel. The Docents continue to look for ways to expand their offerings, and many a summer day is spent writing new curricula and gathering exhibits for their next new program. The Museum’s Docents never stop learning and sharing what they know.
Today, 65 Docents contribute more than 8,000 hours annually reaching thousands of visitors in the Museum and more than 2,500 schoolchildren each year with their outreach efforts.