Every kindergarten student enrolled in a Hamilton County public school will receive a free pass to the Creative Discovery Museum, the county announced Wednesday.
The pass will allow the kindergartener and three guests unlimited entry to the children's museum through the end of June.
"I don't think there's a simpler way for me to describe my job and the future of our county than to tell you and tell you again that what we're willing to give to and invest in our youngest citizens is exactly what the future of our community is going to look like," Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp said during the announcement. "We shouldn't expect anything more in the future than what we're willing to give to them."
There are about 3,500 kindergarten students enrolled in Hamilton County public schools.
The museum has experiences and opportunities that can't always be provided in the classroom, said Neelie Parker, the school district's chief of opportunity and access. She gave examples of the fine motor skills students can develop playing in the Tennessee RiverPlay exhibit, as well as the hands-on experiences children have digging for fossils or in the music studio.
"People don't always know what a gem this is in our community and how specific and uniquely crafted all the opportunities are for children," she said in an interview. "My hope is that by affording this for every family, kids will get to experience, parents will get to experience the wonderful things that are right here in our community."
Early childhood learning builds the foundation for future health and success, said Claire Stockman, the museum's vice president of education.
"We can't wait for you to see, hear, smell, touch, notice, wonder and experience something new and amazing that supports all the classroom learning going on every day of kindergarten this year," she told the Orchard Knob Elementary kindergarteners attending the news conference.
The idea for the partnership came after Wamp visited the museum with one of his children, he said. The county decided to focus on kindergarteners because the infrastructure to distribute passes already existed and due to a belief that starting elementary school should be treated like it's special.
"This is really a world-class learning experience, and I just want as many kids as possible to have exposure to it," Wamp said in an interview. "We thought it'd be really a cool way to celebrate the beginning of a student's educational journey, not just for them to have access here but to have access to bring family members with them."
Passes will be distributed to kindergarten classrooms across Hamilton County in the coming weeks.
The effort is funded by a portion of the money the County Commission allocated to the Creative Discovery Museum in this year's budget. Wamp said it was important to him to ensure the pass also covers a parent's admission to limit financial barriers to access.
"It's a tough time to be feeding and raising and clothing children," he said, "So I hope this is seen and taken as a gift to young families across our community."