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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published September 11, 2008                                                          

Robert Crown's mission
remains the same

Over 50 years, center has changed its approach toward the way
it educates school children

  By Pamela Lannom

   Fifty years ago the Hinsdale Health Museum opened in Hinsdale with 13 exhibits on the human body.
   Photos in a March 1959 issue of Public Health Reports show children looking at a human skeleton, listening to a recording about the beginning of life and operating controls on a giant brain to discover more about the nature of nervous energy and thought processes.
   A lot has changed in health education in the past 50 years.
   “Our past has been we’ve ... put 80 to 100 kids in a room for 90 minutes and we talk to them about a health subject that’s important ... with very big, iconic kind of exhibitry. That’s been the pattern,” said Kathleen Burke, chief executive officer of the Robert Crown Center for Health Education.
   “That has changed completely.”
   The type of programs the center teaches and where and how they are taught all have changed since the center’s predecessor opened in 1958 at 40 S. Clay St.
   “In the past 10 years, we’ve learned how kids learn,” Burke said. “We know more about how the brain works and how kids learn. We are moving away from a passive experience with the kids into interactive, discovery-type of education.”
   The focus of the center’s programs has varied during the past 50 years. The rise in drug use in the 1960s, the sexual revolution of the 1970s and the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s all influenced the curriculum at Robert Crown. New topics such as bullying, steroid use and body image have been added in recent years.
   “We try to stay ahead of the curve, but historically we haven’t been as quick to adapt our curriculum to new information,” Burke said. “The last thing you want to do is walk in a classroom and be thought of as outdated, old hat.”
   Even when educators are addressing subjects they’ve taught for years, they now come at them from a different perspective. In the past, drug education consisted of telling kids drugs are awful and not to use them, Burke said. Now educators talk about social and emotional issues and the need to modify behavior.
   “It’s real important we get back toward the stimulus — the thing that’s creating the need for drugs or sex — and work in that arena,” she said.
   The center’s leaders also have found a need to take their programs out to children rather than waiting for kids to come to them.
   “If you want to do real prevention, if you want to do health promotion, then we should be at the front line helping to teach both teachers and schools as well as parents,” Burke said.
   Robert Crown opened its first satellite facility in 2002 on Chicago’s West Side, and its second will open in Aurora next month. The Chicago location also is home to multiple social service agencies, a YMCA and a park district office.
   “Every one of those agencies works together and they work together for the betterment of children,” Burke said. “You can’t teach a child one piece of how they’re going to grow up healthy.”
   The best teachers also are people who understand the community in which they teach. A Latina woman has been hired to head the new Aurora facility and the staff in Chicago is entirely African-American, Burke said.
   “No matter how much people want to be empathetic and understand people’s lives from a distance, it’s very hard to do that,” she said.
   The other big change for Robert Crown in recent years has been an increased focus on the staff and making sure they have the technological and professional resources they need to succeed.
   “Since I’ve been here, our culture is about team-building,” said Burke, who was hired as CEO in 2005. “Every one of the people who work here — from development through reservations through education — contributes to helping kids be healthy.”
   One thing has not changed over the years, Burke said. Schools continue to recognize the value of Robert Crown’s programs.
   “The schools felt sensitive topics were better handled by outside vendors,” Burke said of the center’s early days. “That’s still true. That still functions today.”

Looking back

1958 — The generous support of Eugene and Virginia Kettering enables the Hinsdale Health Museum to open at 40 S. Clay St. in Hinsdale. Valeda, the life-size talking invisible woman, helps teach the first young visitors about the human body.

1972 — Paul Schwendener donates land at 21 Salt Creek Lane in Hinsdale to the museum. The Henry Crown family contributes a lead gift for construction of a new facility to be named in honor of Robert Crown.

1974 — Doors of the new Robert Crown Center for Health Education open on Jan. 28. Schools begin to depend on its programs as an integral part of their own curriculum.

1983 — The center serves its 1 millionth student.

1985 — AIDS education is introduced into center programs.

1987 — The center begins to expand its outreach efforts by taking instruction programs into classrooms of Chicago public schools.

1990 — The center serves its 2 millionth student.

1995 — The center serves its 3 millionth student and introduces Body Trek, a summer camp program where kids learn about the human body.

1996-97 — Robert Crown’s outreach is expanded into suburban schools and preschool/day care facilities.

1999 — Robert Crown Center celebrates its 25th anniversary.

2001 — The center continues to expand outreach programs as schools cut back on field trips and travel following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Within a few years, 50 percent of programs are presented in a community setting.

2002 — Robert Crown opens its first satellite facility at Homan Square in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. The campus offers free programs to all Chicago public schools and community outreach to schools in the West Side neighborhood.

2005 — Using state-of-the-art technology, Robert Crown partners with the Museum of Science and Industry to reach more youth with its Family Life program.

2008 — The Robert Crown Center celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Hinsdale Health Museum and opens a third campus in Aurora. Valeda also turns 50 and undergoes a makeover, including a new bilingual voice track in English and Spanish.

A special birthday bash

   Forty years ago, the women planning fund-raisers to help offer health education in Hinsdale didn’t think about heading downtown to a five-star hotel.
   “The first party was given in the basement of the Hinsdale Health Museum,” said Hazel Barr, who organized the event. “That had to be at least 35, 40 years ago. That was the first real benefit we had.”
   Organizers had to get a special liquor license from the village and convince the fire department that the basement was a safe place to have the party, Barr said. Tickets were $35 or $50, she recalled.
   “The next year I formed a women’s board and then they started building the center where it is now and we gave a party under a tent,” Barr said.
   Barr, who coordinated the 25th anniversary party for the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, has returned to the role of party planner as co-chairman of the center’s 50th birthday celebration later this month.
   Many of the women who worked on earlier benefits are on the committee again this year.
   “I picked all the people who were the movers and the shakers of the period at that time,” she said. “It’s fun to say, ‘Here we are again.’ ”
   But this year’s committee is dealing with a much different venue.
   “We’ve got a five-star hotel and Tom Kehoe, who is world-renowned, is doing the decor,” she said. “Tiffany’s has donated a $9,300 wristwatch that we’re taking chances on.”
   Two New York models in Tiffany blue gowns will sell chances for $100 apiece. At the end of the evening, the guest whose box contains the winning number will take home the watch.
   Guests also will enjoy a live auction and dancing to music by the Marshall Vente Band.
   “Outside of that, everybody just eats and drinks and has a marvelous time,” Barr said. “It will be a gorgeous party.”
   The party will take place Friday, Sept. 26, at The Grand Ballroom of the Peninsula Chicago, 108 E. Superior St.
   The black tie gala begins at 6:30 p.m. with cocktails. Dinner is at 8 p.m.
   The evening will include a special performance by the Holy Family Ministries children’s choir of North Lawndale.
   Tickets are $350 each or $3,500 for a table of 10. A premium table for 10 with preferred seating is $5,000. Round-trip transportation from the center is available for $20 a person.
   Reservations are due by Thursday, Sept. 18. Call (630) 325-1773.

       Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between The Hinsdalean
and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, which works
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and safe lives.



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