Beyond the Bell: Learning Outside the Classroom

Group of young women share a pose with a portrait of Michelle Obama in the National Portrait Gallery.

Through the Beyond the Bell initiative, Smithsonian educators will partner with out-of-school youth organizations to design high-quality experiences that inspire. Collaborating organizations include the National 4-H Council and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, with others on the horizon. 

Expanding Youth Learning, Empowerment, and Civic Engagement  

The Smithsonian is spearheading an initiative with national youth organizations to engage and support teen learners in rural communities, elevating student voice, with an emphasis on civic engagement.  

Through digital content, in-person museum experiences, and community-based project learning, we aim to promote discussion, dialogue, and exploration of local issues through the lens of science, art, and history while equipping students with new skills. The learning experiences focus on inquiry approaches, career pathways, local history, and storytelling.  

Through these educational experiences, the Smithsonian provides high school-aged learners with access to relevant and meaningful content, opportunities to connect with experts, and transformative tools to prepare them for success in the classroom, after school, and at home. 

As part of these partnerships, youth engage in a community-based learning project to provide them with an understanding of how democracy has played out in their own communities, document local history, give creative expression to what they have learned, and foster important discussions about their communities’ futures. They will learn cultural storytelling approaches and research and interview skills with Smithsonian staff providing virtual support to help them develop and activate action plans.  

Through this work, students gain new insights into the ways in which their neighbors’ stories and ideas are intertwined with the nation’s stories, reinforcing a sense of connection to their towns. Youth will seek out diverse perspectives, become involved in civic affairs in their hometowns, and enjoy opportunities to join in local social activities.  

The result is a vast array of dynamic projects that connect youth voices to local discourse. Young voices are amplified, creating a more inclusive narrative of the rural experience. Through their participation, the youth will: 

  • Recognize the integral role young voices can play in leading civil discourse and communication in their communities; 
  • Develop skills and resources needed to engage in shaping their communities’ futures; 
  • Embrace their own role as confident young leaders using practical knowledge and 21st-century skills to address local challenges with peers and community members;  
  • Become active, engaged young citizens with tools and self-awareness that will help them pursue opportunities for change in their hometowns. 

By providing transformative learning tools and resources, our vision is that participating students will thrive and flourish, gain an understanding of civics and their important role in implementing positive changes in their communities, and develop their leadership abilities.