This winter, we led a four-week virtual enrichment program for 3rd grade students at the Kelly School in Holyoke with the Boys & Girls Club. We engaged 40 youth over Zoom and collaborated with four returning guest instructors from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, UMass, and the Mass Young Birders Club. The program was focused on local wildlife, animal traits and adaptations, and urban birding.
Ellie Viggiani, 2020-21 TerraCorps Youth Education Coordinator, reflects on developing and facilitating the program:
This was the first time Eagle Eye had ever run a virtual program, so all our lesson plans had to be made from scratch. A lot of time went into researching virtual enrichment and creating content for the sessions. There were many more students than we originally thought, and although this changed some of the ways that we ran the program, it was wonderful to be able to reach such a wide array of students.
The students responded really well to the subject material, wildlife in Holyoke. Animals are a topic usually well received by students, especially in elementary school. The subject matter allowed us for a lot of flexibility with our programming. The games and icebreakers for the program were also a hit among the students. The group had a lot of energy and having high motion games worked well for the age group. We learned that having two people managing the zoom call and co-hosting was necessary! One of the staff members was able to monitor the chat, call on students, and monitor the energy of the group while the other could focus on teaching.
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to translate Eagle Eye programs to a virtual format. This came with quite a bit of trial and error. We had more students join than we had expected, which made us adapt our programming to be suitable for a large audience. Students joined the Zoom call from many different locations and environments, which meant that our lessons had to be adaptable to fit different needs. For example, not every student had space to stand up during our activities, so we gave students modified versions. Technology always poses challenges, but we stayed adaptable and responded to the conditions.
Our first virtual program was a success and exciting to create and lead. It provided Eagle Eye with the opportunity to branch out from our in-person programming yet still meet our program goals of connecting youth with themselves, others, and nature with relevant, place-based content. Despite the virtual setting, students had the opportunity to engage with the environment and wildlife right outside their windows and meet and learn from professionals in the natural resources. It was wonderful to work with this group of students. Their energy and enthusiasm brought this program to life.