• Lianna Burrows

Environmental Education in the time of COVID

Adapting to educational changes in Abaco in the midst of a global pandemic

Our education team at Friends of the Environment (FRIENDS) has been adapting to many challenges these past few months. However, it's safe to say that our students in Abaco are the ones who have felt the brunt of a very difficult year. On September 1st 2019, they endured the weight of Hurricane Dorian, including the destruction of many of their schools, displacement of their families, and for some, even the trauma of losing loved ones.

In the time of recovery and getting back to some sense of normalcy as schools began to

rebuild and reopen, they then adapted to yet another change as schools closed due to COVID-19 on March 16th 2020. The resilience of both these students and teachers on our island has inspired us to embrace new educational opportunities at FRIENDS, and adjust to the many changes that have come our way.

Although FRIENDS had high hopes to jump back into our educational programs such as field trips, school visits and our annual summer camp, COVID had other plans for us. As teachers adjusted to these difficult changes, we tried our best to be available to offer our assistance as needed. In early June, we tuned into our first virtual class with Long Bay School to talk about invasive species. It was refreshing for us to see familiar, smiling faces on the screen and reconnect with students. Virtual sessions like this sparked our creativity when we decided it was best to shift gears for our summer camp to go virtual.

We believed that some of the COVID regulations that were

being required would be simply impossible for us to meet during summer camp. Lessons and activities were transformed by our education team to be easily done virtually, and we began our first ever virtual program at FRIENDS. Since we offered summer camp virtually, our education team provided activity kits for our campers with materials to do activities during camp sessions. These activity kits were either picked up from us in Marsh Harbour or delivered by our team to North and South Abaco and some of the cays. With social distancing protocols and protective masks, we were able to deliver safely to many campers.

Campers ranged between ages 3-16 over a period of 3 weeks and learned about mangroves, blue holes, coral reefs, pine forests, sustainability and more. 58% of our kids signed up were "first-time" campers at FRIENDS, and our campers were on the islands of Abaco, Grand Bahama, New Providence and San Salvador, and one was even in Tampa, Florida. One parents response to our virtual program was "great work adapting to a new delivery model! Super helpful to have materials in advance. Well-designed lessons. Awesome activities. Prompted lots of good conversation." The diversity and compliance of new campers mixing with our familiar campers made the outcome of our virtual camp extremely rewarding, and we are thankful for everyone who participated to make

it so special.

"Great work adapting to a new delivery model! Super helpful to have materials in advance. Well-designed lessons. Awesome activities. Prompted lots of good conversation."

Switching to virtual learning is a learning curve in itself for all involved, including teachers, guest speakers, parents and students. Although our virtual program was overall a success, we had small mishaps such as internet connection issues, software issues, screen sharing complications. With that being said, we are grateful for the patience from each and every one of our participants, and salute teachers, students and parents around the world who are adjusting to this great change. FRIENDS hopes to expand our virtual programs in local Abaco schools in the upcoming school year, with new curriculum strategies, updated presentations and virtual field trip ideas.

Check out some photos from our virtual programs below:

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world".

An encouraging quote that we like to remember in these challenging times is "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world", Nelson Mandela. We can't wait to be back in classrooms and exploring Bahamian ecosystems with our students. But for now, we are looking forward to making their virtual learning experience with us an

exciting one.

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