Idaho schools are still not fully in-person. To engage students in other ways, some Boise organizations have modified their extracurricular activities, so that young people can continue learning outside the classroom.
Before the pandemic, parents like Emma Ashby brought their families to the Boise Public Library for educational programs and to get to know other families in the community. But these days, they tune in to the Library’s YouTube channel from their living rooms.
“We've missed our librarians,” Ashby said. “And it's a pretty guilt-free screen activity for the kids.”
Ashby said her kids have especially missed going to science class in school. But among other activities like painting and family storytime, the library has offered virtual science projects using home materials like baking soda, which Ashby’s kids love.
The library’s virtual programming started in August. Trisha Mick, branch supervisor at the Library’s Cole and Ustick location, says the hardest part has been the loss of an in-person community.
“A huge part of it was having kids come in and connect with other kids who were around the same age,” said Mick. “We would see a lot of families who were using our services as just a way to be in a safe space with their kids and allow their kids to learn while the parents, you know, could relax.”
Mick says the library will continue to offer virtual programming on YouTube and Zoom.
Mackie Welch, a youth services librarian, says even without in-person interaction, the programming gives kids and parents a sense of stability and a way to stay connected.
“I think it's really important for kids to see us and see that we're safe, see that we're OK, see that we're just at home just like them. And it's nothing to be scared about. It's just different,” said Welch.
Other Boise organizations have found ways to continue in-person programming during the pandemic. One of these is Boise Parks and Recreation’s new outdoor field study program. It’s meant to be a hands-on alternative to the virtual learning public schools have turned to.
The program takes place at the Foothills Learning Center and Boise Urban Garden School. Lisa Duplessie is the education manager at both locations.
“I think the kids have been so set on screens for a while," she said. "It's definitely a different outlet. And we want to teach them core science values. But at the end of the day, too, it's just being able to let them get out in nature and enjoy and have a great time."
Of course, the outdoor field study program had to take COVID-19 into consideration as well. Duplessie said her programs have scaled down from what once included 100 students a day. And it helps that their programs take place outside.
“Even when everything's shut down, I think what was used more than anything was our trail system in the city,” said Duplessie. “And kids still want to get outside. They still want that connection. That's where they really grow and feel healthy.”
For Avi Kaplan, a professor of educational psychology at Temple University, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. He says the pandemic provides an opportunity to consider what works and what doesn't in public education.
“I think that this could actually be a great opportunity to rethink what quality education is about and … how we can actually address the needs of local communities,” said Kaplan.
According to Kaplan, students need access to on- and off-screen activities that are community-oriented and meaningful to them. And that’s the gap organizations like the Foothills Learning Center, the Boise Urban Garden School and the Boise Public Library are trying to fill — pandemic or not.
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