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Stories of 2020: Virtual Education

In mid-March- in the middle of planning fun-filled, educational activities for summer- the world as we knew it got flipped on its head. Everything was abruptly converted into a virtual world or canceled altogether, and it certainly impacted the educational programs here at City Sprouts. I will admit I didn't expect to be living in the same virtual world into December and beyond. However, this unprecedented turn of fate has brought not only challenges, but impactful growth opportunities as well - not only for myself as an educator, but for the way we as an organization offer meaningful engagement and educational opportunities to the public.

When everything first went virtual, it would have been easy for us to cancel our upcoming classes and put educational programming on hold until the world returned to some state of normalcy. I am proud to say that we did not do that. All of our educators were willing to experiment with education in a virtual world. It took quite a bit of trial and error between technical issues, converting hands-on content to virtual, and attempting to remain engaging within a virtual classroom, but our educators pulled it off and created some truly engaging virtual workshops for the Growing Gardeners Workshop Series. Our educators have also talked about the potential benefits of keeping virtual classes part of our regular schedule; for example, we were able to reach people as far away as New Zealand this year! This wide of a reach would have been impossible had we not gone virtual; and I don't believe we ever would have been pushed to try out virtual classes had the pandemic not occurred. There's always a silver lining somehow!

For our youth programs -Little Sprouts for ages 3-8 and Garden to Table for middle schoolers- I took things mostly into my own hands. At first, it was quite difficult coming up with content that would be engaging for children and preteens without any hands-on portion, but once I got in the swing of things and had a few brainstorming sessions with other educators, virtual engagement and teaching strategies began to feel more natural. That's not to say I haven't had any lessons that flopped, but over the many months of virtual education, I have been able to refine my virtual teaching abilities and pull off some engaging activities for the Little Sprouts children and Garden to Table middle schoolers, as well as create videos for a new educational opportunity at St. Luke's Teen Center.

I always try to stay positive in the face of a challenge, and so I took on the opportunity for virtual education as a chance to experiment. I tested out a lot of ideas from distributing kits of supplies to virtual matching games to discussion-based activities to research-based activities, and I eventually found what resonated best with students. With many last-minute program changes and technical errors, I certainly became better at improv during this time!

While I am eager to get back into hands-on activities, safety will always come first, and after nearly 10 months of virtual education, I am feeling confident that all of our educators will continue to hone their abilities as teachers. We will continue to strive to be more engaging and intentional with our classes, and - even though we are slated to continue classes in 2021 virtually - I am truly excited for what's to come. We're stirring up some awesome new ideas and I hope everyone in the communities we serve is as eager as we are to test out some new experiments!

Check out some of Cian's past episodes of Little Sprouts here.


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