The Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium is a non-profit natural history museum located in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. The Museum opened in 1891 as a gift of Franklin Fairbanks, a businessman, naturalist and philanthropist, to the community. The Fairbanks Museum continues to faithfully uphold and expand upon Fairbanks’ vision of a public museum with a strong educational component. The modern day mission is to “inspire wonder, curiosity and responsibility for the natural world.” The mission is accomplished through general visitation (+/- 30,000 year), school student visits (+/- 12,000 year), a preschool, a public planetarium and a well-respected weather center which broadcasts through Vermont Public Radio (194,000 listeners weekly).
The Fairbanks Museum offers 65 STEM-based classes designed to meet Next Generation Science Standards to approximately 12,000 students annually. These programs span multiple STEM-based disciplines, however, the institution’s core fields are astronomy, meteorology and the natural sciences. Most of these programs are delivered to schools in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom; a region which tends to under-perform the rest of the state in terms of standardized testing and educational attainment.
In March 2020, as school closures became imminent, the Fairbanks Museum adapted its existing programs for interactive delivery via Zoom, and live-streamed at the Fairbanks Museum’s YouTube channel. Additionally, the Fairbanks Museum has undertaken a weekly live COVID-19 update in partnership with the Northeast Regional Hospital and has produced pre-recorded segments focusing on the natural sciences and outdoor activities.
As recently as mid-March 2020, the Fairbanks Museum did not offer substantive online programming beyond audio weather forecasts and astronomy content. The Fairbanks Museum’s Virtual Classroom program began on March 18, and has since amassed nearly 40 hours of original digital content. Audience size for the live programming varies from 15 to 150 viewers, and the archived programming on YouTube amassed 400 hours of viewing in April. Additionally, the Fairbanks Museum’s programming is rebroadcast by Kingdom Access Television, and is uploaded to the Vermont Media Exchange for distribution to other community access stations across the state. In April, VMX recorded 133 unique downloads of Fairbanks Museum programs by community access stations across the state.