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Kansas City’s Nonprofit Voice!

Sharing the stories of local nonprofits and connecting them with the community! We talk with philanthropists, volunteers, community activists, executive directors, and non-profit lovers from the Kansas City nonprofit community. Be seen, be heard with KC Cares! Kansas City’s Nonprofit Voice!

On Episode 364 of KC Cares, we talk with Terri Thompson with Prairie Fire Museum! Listen now!

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Prairie Fire Museum

Terri Thompson, Director, development and community engagement

The Museum of Prairiefire Foundation (Museum at Prairiefire) is committed to innovative learning in science, the arts and natural history. Through a founding collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, as well as with other cultural and educational institutions in the nation, the Museum at Prairiefire (MAP) is a place that provides ACCESS FOR ALL to understand and celebrate natural history and science in our region and around the world.
The MAP engages visitors and students of all ages with world-class exhibitions, important programming, and provides significant educational and STEAM opportunities for underserved children through KC Urban Advantage 


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KC Cares, Kansas City’s nonprofit voice, tells the stories of Kansas City nonprofits and connects them with the community.  

Produced by Charitable Communications 

In partnership with the Kauffman Foundation

Think. Do. Be Uncommon.

Transcription of Interview:

KcCares_EP364 Terri Thompson

Ruth Bigus: [00:00:00] . This is KC Cares, Kansas city’s nonprofit digital resource were produced by charitable communications. We’ll tell the stories of Kansas city nonprofits and the people behind them. KC Cares is proudly sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation, and today we’re on location at one of the coolest spots in Kansas city.

We are at. The muse at Prairie fire, and if you’re hearing little sounds in the broadcast, that’s because I’m hanging out with dinosaurs and a place that’ll tell you about Kansas being an ocean and all kinds of really cool things. And Terry Thompson is gonna tell us all about it. Terry’s director of development and community engagement at the map.

Terri Thompson: [00:00:52] Yes. Okay. Muse at pro fire, otherwise known as the map. Very cool. Yeah.

Ruth Bigus: [00:00:59] Muse opened

Terri Thompson: [00:01:00] in the muse opened may of 2000. Let me get it straight. 14. So we are now five years old, happy birthday. So we’re now five years old and boy did that five years fly by. And we’ve done so much in, we’ve had so many exhibitions to come through.

It’s, it’s incredible. We switch out exhibitions about every six months or so.and we have more than one going on at any given time. So there’s a lot of installed install,a lot going on, but we want to keep the content fresh and relevant and invigorating,to the guests that visit us of all ages because we have members.

I kid you not that come two, three, and four times a week. Well, it’s a

Ruth Bigus: [00:01:48] fabulous space, which our listeners and followers will be able to see. It’s filled with beautiful light from the gorgeous glass windows, and then you walk in here and it’s like. I think it’s a pterodactyl that’s above our head.

Terri Thompson: [00:02:03] It is.

It’s the Kansas state fossil is, this is a tear

Ruth Bigus: [00:02:06] dactyl I didn’t know that. Right. That’s your fun fact. Everyone.

Terri Thompson: [00:02:09] Fun fact. You want to hear another fun fact? Yeah, absolutely. So the exterior, gorgeous exterior of our building, everyone says, Oh, it’s such beautiful stain glass. It’s not stained glass, which is why we have an astronauts helmet about 10 feet from our door.

It’s because it’s actually dichroic glass, which is the same technology they use on astronauts shields to reflect the sun, which is also why our building changes color as the sun rises and sets it is so spectacular.

Ruth Bigus: [00:02:38] Yes, it is. So folks, if you’re not familiar with where the muse is, it’s off 130 fifth street out in Overland park.

Yeah. It’s that building you drive by and you . Do a double-take. You go, what was

Terri Thompson: [00:02:49] that? That is, that is a building. And we promise, I hear this. So many people say this, Oh, I’ve seen it. I’ll see it all the time. I’ve driven by, but I’ve never been in. And I asked, well, why not? And they go, well, it’s seems so official.

Like there might be an armed guard at the door. And I’m like, no, you can come into our great hall and you can experience so much before you ever even buy a ticket there. So all this that you see around you. Guests could walk in from outside and just experience it without buying a ticket.

Ruth Bigus: [00:03:16] So tell us what, when you walk in that door, what is.

The goal, the purpose of the muse

Terri Thompson: [00:03:23] is to get people excited about the natural history of Kansas, to get people excited about science, to get people excited about science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. We have a very stout education department and there is nothing quite like the joy of seeing a child and or an adult and see their eyes light up when they learn a new fact.

And that kind of sets off a spark curiosity in their questions, get deeper. It’s like, it’s really super exciting. So you come in and first thing you’ll notice one of two things immediately. And for some reason, two to three year olds always notice the Tara dactyl. But. That. You’ll notice that there’s a screen to your right, that dinosaurs are kind of walking around you on that screen and it’s like, Whoa.

And you turn around the corner and look to the left. There is a full size T-Rex that seems like it’s common around the corner, right in your direction. So a lot just hit you from the door.

Ruth Bigus: [00:04:18] And this is just like the sprinkles on the icing on the cake.

Terri Thompson: [00:04:22] This is just the great hall. There’s so much going on behind these massive walls you wouldn’t believe.

And like I tell people, we are a big, gorgeous, amazing building. It’s a work of art. It really is. It’s become quickly become a landmark, and not just over the park, Johnson County, but Kansas city. We get so much national attention for this gorgeous building. But what’s most amazing about this place? It isn’t the building.

It isn’t all the amazing,exhibitions that we have inside and the artwork that we have. It’s in our education department and our mission program. That is what makes this so amazing,is KC urban advantage, which that is our mission program. So we take all of this stout education that we have.

Completely authentic. Dr. Katherine McKinney will slap my hand if I try to do anything that’s not authentic. She’s serious about it.but we go out to Kansas city’s most underserved schools, and we start with the principal. And then we have professional development for the teachers so that they are more comfortable teaching STEM and teaching it in a project based way so they can include it throughout the year.

Then we go down to the students and we have educator model modules and materials that link directly to the state standards so the teachers don’t have to do anything extra. It’s literally handed to them. Here’s your lesson plan. Here’s how you connect the state standard curricul to the muse at Prairie fire, world war one, Kansas city zoo.

All these partner institutions that we have, so they have that lesson plan. Then they come out in the field and they can choose where they go out in the field too, right? We pay for the buses. We pay for the lunch. We pay for every student. Single student’s admission. We pay for their parents to get a pass for their entire family to come back to that institution they visited.

The idea is to remove every barrier and to level the playing field because bright minds are born and all economics standings.

Ruth Bigus: [00:06:26] Well it knows no,

Terri Thompson: [00:06:27] it knows no boundaries.

Ruth Bigus: [00:06:29] So how many kiddos have come through the muse

Terri Thompson: [00:06:33] I’m at today? This is our, their, I think it’s our fourth school year. Third year of the program has been, but the fourth school years, that makes sense cause they, right.

And,we’ve had over 6,000 when we did our account for, uh, Q3, which was a start of the school year. This year we were over 6,000 kiddos already. But here’s the best part about it. So it’s very holistic. We also do family programming to engage the families in this and to get that family dynamic. Talking about science, scientific terms.

. Engineering, fun stuff. So we do that to,engage the whole family, because if it becomes part of the family vernacular, it becomes part of that child’s identity. So not only is it something that they love to do, but it’s also like a part of them. Like, Oh, I’m a science chick. That’s my thing. You know, that’s my jam.

I love physics. You know, that type of thing. When you get a kid talking like that. You’re on, you’re on a good little path right there. So we tried to make it holistic, and it’s not for one grade or for one class. It’s for every single, it’s open to every single student in every single grade. So we go pre K up to the end of elementary school.

Every single student has an opportunity, and it’s not for one year or five years. It’s open ended. It goes on and on and on. And here’s the idea. Those children that stay in that school year after year after year, will continue to get this holistic. Educational steam experience. Imagine how many more STEM careers that we will spark right here in Kansas city.

Imagine how many children’s lives that we will change the course of their lives because we’ve set off that spark of wanting to learn more and more about this robotics or about, uh, gravity and, and how you engineer something that defies gravity. And, or. Building bridges and how it is that you can put things together in the problems you have to solve and what type of bridge you have to build.

How many of those children that we will be able to set on a pathway out of poverty simply through education.

Ruth Bigus: [00:08:36] Do you have it set up internally to track because you’re in year four. Trek some of these kiddos. I mean, you’ve got, as you say, you’ve got pre King kindergarteners who hopefully then go all through their elementary.

Yes, yes. Having had this experience or are coming back every year

Terri Thompson: [00:08:54] and the schools in the S, here’s when we first realized, okay, we need to seriously deep dive track this, the identity. The students track them via their, their student ID nber. When we realized that the school district, one of our school districts came back to us and said, this was.

Last year, we want to incorporate you into all of our fourth grade curricul because the schools you’re in, their scores are up. Wow. That’s outperforming amazing. And then they came back again and said, okay, now we want to put you into our eighth grade curricul because the S where you guys are affecting the kids, their scores are up.

That is huge. That says a lot to me. School districts. Educators, administrators, teachers, they have so much on their plate already. They’re not gonna come to you asking you to participate, asking you to the party if you are not truly contributing. So it’s been, it’s been amazing, you know,an amazing ride.

And it’s beautiful thing when you see the kiddos faces light up and, and you see them as, they kind of go through the experience and they start asking questions and deeper questions and deeper questions. And the kiddos will get to questions where you’re like. Well, what do you think it is? Cause I don’t know.

I’m just here for the feel good because you kids are amazing and this is incredible. So,it is really, you know, and we, we are a building full of scientists and educators. You’ll walk up to the welcome desk to buy your ticket and have no idea. That’s a geologist and the other side ringing up your ticket.

We are cha we, when I say we are. Have a stout education department, I mean top to bottom.

Ruth Bigus: [00:10:33] So how many people are working inside here to make all that happen?

Terri Thompson: [00:10:38] Uh, we have, Alina means get staff. I think it’s about 23 people.

Ruth Bigus: [00:10:42] That’s not very big for everything you’re trying to accomplish,

Terri Thompson: [00:10:46] but do, wow, you do it.

It is a passionate labor of love. It truly is.

Ruth Bigus: [00:10:52] Education is not inexpensive. And here you are providing this. Focused on in, on the urban advantage, on kiddos in lower income, lower or are underscoring schools, inner city schools. How do you, how do you do that? You’re a nonprofit.

Terri Thompson: [00:11:10] Yes. Well, and I’m a development partner, a development department of one Oh one of you.

It’s all one of me. And, . We, we just, we do a lot. I do a lot of talking and we all do a lot of talking about what it is that we really do here. And, and I’m T it is, it’s a seven day a week deal. It has really become my life.but when you, I didn’t understand the level of poverty that we had here in Kansas city.

I was one of those, like, just hadn’t had lived my life and had it and thought I pretty much knew Kansas city. I’ve lived here my whole life.but when you see kids first graders on a Monday, who. You over order on Mondays anyway, and then you have to go back and urgently go pick up more food because the kids are still eating because they’re still hungry and the teacher says, well, it’s probably because a lot of them didn’t have a real meal over the weekend, and you’re going, these are first graders.

What do you mean? She said, it just is what it is. They forged for whatever they can find over the weekend, and when they get to school on Monday, they’re there, they eat more, and I’m like. What happens in the smer, like what? I don’t understand that just as mind blowing and that makes you want to dig deeper, work harder, tell the story more and more often so more people can get on board and support what we do.

I mean, it’s really good if you think about it, if you’re breaking the bonds of cyclical poverty, right? These children are way less likely to be in a place or position. When they get to those middle school, high school years where they will be the victim or perpetrator of a violent crime because their interests in their bodies are elsewhere.

Right? Right.you’re reducing the nbers of families and poverty. Maybe by a tiny, tiny bit, but you’re doing it. That’s good for all of Kansas city. You’re increasing the STEM careers in Kansas city that come out of Kansas city, and you’ve produced a hometown pride with these kids because they’ve seen all these amazing institutions and places that we have here in Kansas city.

So what we’re doing is really good for all of Kansas city.

Ruth Bigus: [00:13:27] And this is open to everyone. So you have this robust program, but anyone can come experience

Terri Thompson: [00:13:33] this at

Ruth Bigus: [00:13:34] any

Terri Thompson: [00:13:34] time. We have. A stout education department. We have for classes, we have little explorers classes. We have jam session classes, so little explorers are three to five year olds.

Jam sessions are elementary school age. Those are open to everyone and anyone can partake in those. We have all, we have adult programming, science happy hour. My favorite hobby, let’s go to science happy hour. I’m just saying, I mean, what’s better than kind of getting the synapsis move in with the little wine and then taking in some new information.

It’s really got a fun, we have,astronomy programming and we have family activities. We have so many things, and we also do lots of drives. Our members are really, really givers. It’s amazing. So you’re

Ruth Bigus: [00:14:18] an institution that’s giving educationally and then you’re reaching beyond. I saw that you, you partner on.

Uh, I’m trying to remember. Some of the organizations I went through there were,

Terri Thompson: [00:14:28] Oh yeah. Matt was my partner with boys and girls club.so that we serve boys and girls club kids, like in the smer and in their afterschool program, the Emmanuel center, we partnered with them. So we serve their children.

, big brothers, big sisters. We partner with them so all their bigs can bring their littles out here. I know charge as much as they want, anytime.so many institutions we partner with around Kansas city, but here’s how we look at it. The more lives that we can touch. The more people we can reach, I’m one of them.

Candy’s favorite sayings? Rising tide raises all boats

Ruth Bigus: [00:15:01] and that’s candy Merrill.

Terri Thompson: [00:15:02] Yes. Candy

Ruth Bigus: [00:15:03] and Fred Merrill.

Terri Thompson: [00:15:04] Who were the developers of developers and

Ruth Bigus: [00:15:07] instigators in a good way. Yes. Of this entire thing. Is there a way that people can give back. To Prairie fire, obviously write a check. Yeah, we know how that works, but volunteer

Terri Thompson: [00:15:17] opportunities that

Ruth Bigus: [00:15:18] folks can get engaged.

Terri Thompson: [00:15:20] We have an incredible, I don’t know where our volunteers come from, but they are amazing. We have retired vets, retired. Physicians, retired doctors of geology, retired. I mean, researchers, we have an amazing volunteer program. And then we also have like these teens that come in and they’re like budding doctors and budding scientists and budding researchers, and they get so into, especially the,virtual reality that we have the virtual reality experience.

We have. We have, you try that.they, so get into the tech behind that. And I mean, these kids are like. You know, I needed, I haven’t needed to figure out how to write some code on, on, uh, something the other day. And one of our little teen volunteers was like, Oh yeah, I know how to write code. I was like, get over here.

Ruth Bigus: [00:16:08] And he did it. Wow. So how can people find out about volunteering coming to the muse where, what’s the connection they should go to?

Terri Thompson: [00:16:16] Okay. So we there any kind of way you can walk in the door. Please. You can go to our website. The muse’s website is visit the map.org. You can go to that website or you can go to KC urban advantage of the website and check out that whole program.

If you really want to volunteer specifically for that, you could see everything we do within that and volunteer for that in and of itself. And then,or you can call me. Terry Thompson, (913) 333-3503 or you can email me, Terry at visit  dot org we will find a way, a place for you to come on.

Ruth Bigus: [00:16:51] No excuse for anybody not getting in touch with, with you all and come out.

This is such an amazing space and it’s been so much fun to be here. It’s gorgeous. It’s beautiful. Terry, thank you so much and thanks for hosting us.

Terri Thompson: [00:17:03] Thank you. We’re like excited. We’re kind of proud to be hosting. Absolutely. Love it. Thank you. Thank you so much.

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