LEAD Academy Reflection
Let me start by saying I have never been to the aquarium without children and I had a completely different experience during the LEAD field trip than anytime I have ever been there in the past. One Fellow felt guilty for having so much fun there without her children. I felt completely relaxed, which I do not get to experience a great deal with a 4 and a 7 year old at home.
It started as any other day, anticipating another exciting field trip arranged for us by the LEAD Committee. The National Aquarium was to be even more special because it would be our last trip together before commencement, and the Aquarium administrators are developing their own leadership program for their employees based on Catholic Charities’ LEAD program, which is an enormous compliment. They picked our brains about how to go about developing it in a way which supports the expansion of world-renowned programs here in Baltimore and supports the staff making it happen.
Our day started in the 4D theatre where we watched “Sea Monsters.” It was more of an experience than a movie viewing. Water and wind sprayed us at various parts of the movie, and we were educated about the life of “Dolly,” a prehistoric sea creature whose bones had been discovered in 1812 in Kansas.
We met a Hyacinth McCaw who said “hello” and only visits with guests because she is not on display at the Aquarium. She works throughout each day with various trainers so as not to get attached to any one in particular and practices skills which make her better able to respond to emergency medical procedures if ever needed, such as putting on an oxygen mask. The trainer who introduced us to the McCaw, Christine, was a delight as she was so passionate about her work.
We were then free to explore the aquarium on our own and the same approach was taken in the dolphin training experience that Christine facilitated with the McCaw. They cancelled the dolphin shows a few years ago and now educate the public at various times throughout the day about the training the dolphins experience, which helps them thrive in the aquarium environment. Their rewards for practicing their fin movements consist of pushing balls with their noses and eating fish. The staff told us they make changes in programming according to feedback received from attendees and this seems to have been a positive change as the dolphin experience is now included in the price of admission.
The National Aquarium also had to adjust and make changes in programming due to attendance levels which were negatively impacted by the curfew imposed as a result of riots that took place in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray on April 19, 2015. The negative image Baltimore has received in the aftermath has affected tourism and businesses that rely on worldwide attention have suffered. Our 2015 theme “Leadership under Fire” has been applicable to the Aquarium during the attendance shortfalls in April and they appear to have handled it with grace, being as truthful with concerned guests as possible. Guests have been calling prior to their planned visits, asking if they would be safe. The Aquarium has been making assurances, but the numbers do not lie. The Aquarium may have to sacrifice future programming if attendance does not pick up, so I would encourage everyone in and near Baltimore to take a trip to local businesses which rely on tourism.
One of the newest additions to the National Aquarium is the touch exhibit which opened on May 12, 2015. Guests are encouraged to touch jellyfish and sting rays in order to feel their skin and educators are on hand for any questions. The exhibit is bright and seems to have filled a once empty space from which it is still easy to view the black-tipped reef below. It surprised me how nervous I was to touch an animal, but I quickly encourage my children when they have the opportunity to experience something live up-close and personal. I was glad to have a different experience at the National Aquarium and plan to take my children again soon so they can see the new exhibits that were not there when they went last summer.
I was completely surprised how relaxing my experience was. I encourage you to go by yourself sometime to the National Aquarium and to listen to the soothing music, reflect on the movement of the water, take in the beauty of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and appreciate our connection to the ocean. It will surely help you become a better leader in your own right.
Kerry Ford Morancy is a Therapist at the Fallstaff outpatient mental health clinic and a Fellow in the LEAD Academy Class of 2015. Kerry works mainly at Pimlico Elementary/Middle school providing individual and family counseling and prevention activities such as small groups and teacher presentations. Supporting her in this journey, among others, are her supervisor, Sherry Sullivan, and her mentor, Kristen Kinkopf of Mission Integration and Planning.