The Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum is ready to celebrate a milestone after surviving COVID-19 | Winchester star
WINCHESTER — Just months after the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to close its doors for good, the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum has bounced back and is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“We’ve had a really tough year,” museum executive director Dawn Devine said Thursday, smiling broadly.
In December, Devine feared there would be no 25th anniversary. The coronavirus had forced the Children’s Museum at 19 W. Cork St. to close to the public for four months from March to July 2020. When it reopened, visiting hours were reduced so that staff could have enough time to clean and disinfect, but there weren’t many staff to handle the extra work as a drop in museum revenue forced the association to lay off 21 of its 25 employees between March and December 2020.
Fortunately, the museum weathered the storm and became an even stronger institution. It currently hosts busy summer camps, its opening hours have returned to normal and the staff has been bolstered by several recent part-time hires.
“We are back!” Guess said. “We’re really excited about this.”
Even though COVID-19 cases in the Winchester area are on the rise again, Devine said the museum isn’t considering closing or reducing its hours due to the pandemic. However, from today anyone entering the building, including children and people who have been vaccinated, will be required to wear a face mask.
“We as an educational institution always want to model what happens in school districts,” Devine said.
Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday that all K-12 students must wear masks in schools for the next school year.
The Discovery Museum opened in 1996 with five child-friendly exhibits in a building at 54 S. Loudoun St. on the Loudoun Street Mall. In 2014, it moved one block south to its current location in a four-story building that once housed a furniture store.
“We’re so happy to be here,” Devine said. “We are a vital part of the community and I think this year, in many ways, has shown how important our mission is.”
This mission is to educate and enrich children through play and hands-on experiences. Devine said the museum’s exhibits and programs, which are intended to be enjoyed by both children and their adult guardians, are designed to promote the seven “Cs” of childhood development: critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, collaboration, intercultural understanding, communication, computer technology and professional learning.
The museum’s range of interactive exhibits are designed for children and their adult companions to have fun together.
“It really scaffolds the learning,” Devine said. “It adds new vocabulary, challenges kids to step out of their comfort zone a bit. We are truly not only shaping the educational framework for children, but we are also creating families that truly put their children first and see themselves as the primary educators. … That’s what families need, positive memories and being together.
On August 21, the museum will celebrate its first quarter century at its annual gala, “Building Our Future”. The event will take place from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the museum and will feature an orchestra, games, a benefit auction and an assortment of local specialties.
Devine said proceeds from the gala will be used to create a new museum exhibit. She didn’t say what the exhibit will be, but acknowledged it had something to do with construction and should be ready for unveiling in about a year.
“Going forward, we’re going to hold each of our galas to prepare and position ourselves to create a new exhibit,” she said. “We have planned our next three years.”
Gala tickets are $75 each and include food and beverages. They can be purchased online at discoverymuseum.net or at the door on the evening of the event.