Morris Arboretum’s Youth Education and Guided Tours Programs has been selected by the National Association of College Auxiliary Services (NACAS) for the 2020 Edwin R. Golden Award for Inclusive Excellence. This award was established in 1992 in honor of Edwin R. "Bob" Golden for his foresight in acknowledging the need for attention to issues of cultural diversity in the Association. The award will be presented at the C3X 2020 Virtual Conference & Expo, November 11 at the Awards Celebration.

Morris Arboretum is being recognized for three innovative ways that the Arboretum models cultural diversity and inclusion in its programming: facilitating the experiences of guests with disabilities; incorporating culturally diverse programming; and increasing access by reducing economic barriers.

“Morris Arboretum is so proud to have been recognized by the community of our peers for the work we’ve accomplished regarding inclusivity. Receiving this year’s Edwin R. Golden Award for Inclusive Excellence raises the awareness of the value that we place on making diverse and accessible programs available,” according to Bill Cullina, the F. Otto Haas Executive Director of the Morris Arboretum. “It is validation for the work toward diversity we have done, and the impetus to redouble our commitment to do much more.”

Recognizing that Inclusiveness Takes Many Forms

Last year, Arboretum staff collaborated with Arboretum volunteers, staff at Penn Museum, and other organizations to customize an autism-adapted tour for visitors with special requirements. Using the Arboretum’s 92-acre garden, the tour included tactile interactions, arts and crafts collecting natural materials, or a meditative tour focused on sounds and scents in the garden. This customized tour caught the attention of SPIN Inc., a not-for-profit social services organization, that sent eight small groups of adults on the autism spectrum to pilot the new tour. This program was recognized by the 2020 Brighter Future Awards that are given out by the Philadelphia Intellectual Disability Services and Public Awareness Committee.

Valuing the Diversity of Language; Collaborating to Facilitate a Mission

Morris Arboretum’s Youth Education’s guiding principle has inclusiveness at its heart, targeting every child.

This vision is exemplified in the Arboretum’s collaboration with a nearby Norristown, Pennsylvania social services organization, ACLAMO (Latin American Community Action of Montgomery County / Accion Comunal Latinoamericana de Montgomery County). Together, these organizations have collaborated to develop ACLAMO’s summer enrichment camps curricula, and the Arboretum secured the necessary funding to bring this program to fruition. During the summer of 2019, Morris Arboretum hosted approximately 40 middle-school Latinx students, creating a customized experience for them to discover the beauty of nature, learn and share art and science, and have fun. The instructors hired were fluent in Spanish and English to facilitate engagement, and breakfast and lunch were served each day to ensure better nutrition. All program costs were supported by the Arboretum.

Reducing Economic Barriers

During the development of the Arboretum’s master strategy plan for youth education, program data pointed to low participation from public schools in the organization’s curriculum-based tours. To discover the root cause for this anomaly, public school administrators and teachers were interviewed and surveyed. The consensus was that admission and bus transportation costs were major barriers to participation.

To promote inclusiveness in youth education curriculum-based field trips, the Arboretum created a restricted endowment fund that provides sustained program support that does not rely on participation fees, and finances the transportation costs for Title-1 schools. By creating and implementing this program to eliminate economic barriers for Title-1 schools, Morris Arboretum strategically prioritized, developed, and marketed its youth education programs to increase inclusion and equity.

Since the Arboretum’s sustainably funded, free admission plan was implemented in the fall of 2019, the participation of Title-1 schools has dramatically increased. In the past year, Morris Arboretum has narrowed the field group participation differential by 19%, or almost one in five groups are now from Title-1 schools. Morris Arboretum has also adopted a new reservations methodology to ensure that timeslots are available for Title-1 school groups who require a longer planning window. This targeted strategy along with its ‘no-cost visit’ marketing campaign has opened access and achieved a 50% increase in Title-1 school participation in FY2020 compared to the prior two years.

Bryan Thompson-Nowak, a veteran Arboretum Education staff member, and recently appointed Director of Education was thrilled with his team’s successful efforts toward inclusivity and recognition from the NACAS award. “Arboretum staff have targeted the Youth Education and Guided Tours Programs with innovative programming that’s focused on inclusivity and seeks to break down cultural barriers and economic differences. Efforts like this showcase the novel ways that the Arboretum is dedicated to welcoming all people.”

Founded in 1969 as the National Association of College Auxiliary Services, NACAS is a professional trade association that supports the non-academic segment of higher education responsible for generating business through a diverse array of campus services that students need and value – such as food services, bookstores, housing, and transportation. As the leading organization supporting all campus services, NACAS is the community-of-choice for strategic leaders who advance campus environments to improve the quality of life for students.

Morris Arboretum is one of more than 30 Philadelphia gardens in America’s Garden Capital. This 92-acre horticultural display garden features a spectacular collection of mature trees in a beautiful and colorful landscape. The Morris Arboretum, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania’s Division of Business Services, offers educational programs for many audiences ranging from youth to professional, and is a leader in botanical and horticultural research. The official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Morris Arboretum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and accredited by the American Association of Museums.