Two months ago, we received the difficult news that Vermont schools would remain closed for in-person instruction for the rest of the school year to slow the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus. Many people have worked tirelessly to implement Vermont Agency of Education’s Continuity of Learning Plan and provide for the well-being of children during remote schooling. Amidst these challenging times, and inconceivable losses, spring has fully sprung and beckons even the most screen-addicted teenager outside to feel potential for growth and renewal.
Yearning for vibrant connections, I asked several Vermont Education and Environment Network board members to share an experience with stay-at-home education for this blog post. Chris Runcie of Four Winds Nature Institute replied quickly with her story of daily online interaction with a grandchild in another state. Her dedication to staying connected and supporting her family with childcare from a distance is inspiring.
We miss seeing our kids and grandchildren so very much. However, we've been happy to receive daily Skype calls from our 8-yr-old grandson. We've been reading through the Narnia series over Skype. We've found ways to do some science projects. We send a list ahead of simple household items he'll need, and then we gather the same materials here. We've seen how many drops of water fit onto a penny, floated paperclips, studied a green lacewing he caught, put celery into food coloring, and, with his mother's help, made an egg go into a milk bottle - no hands! Of course we ache to be with him and our kids, but it really helps to see and talk with them and we're so grateful for the technology that makes it possible.
At the other extreme of physical connection to a child is Rebecca Roy. She has been working full-time remotely for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation while supporting her daughter, Alice, age eight, with at-home school. Rebecca sent this story of exciting natural science learning close to home.
Alice has many Google meetup classes, and I try to balance outside learning time with her required online time. Tuesdays are her biggest day with over 3.5 hours of online classes. Getting her outside “after school” on those days is very important to me, and we regularly hike to a special remote place, Silver Lake in Leicester in the Green Mountain National Forest. It feels like an adventure to pack up snacks, water bottles, rubber boots, and nets and then hike the 0.6 miles to our destination. We have been watching the ephemeral wildflowers emerging on each trip with new ones blooming every time. We recently went on a fun outing looking for newts and talked about their three unique amphibious life stages, and their habitat needs. Alice caught five newts, and we watched them in our bucket for a little while before letting them go again. We will both always remember that adventure. Learning outside feels even more important than ever right now.
Photos of "Newt Catching" at Silver Lake
Beth Roy of Vital Communities, another board member working full-time remotely while supporting her two elementary-aged children stuck in stay-at-home school, is also helping Upper Valley schools to feed many students and families. Beth’s family keeps extra busy with raising chicks of various breeds, gardening and doing simple experiments, such as growing a seedling in a box with a small window to understand more about phototropism. In an excerpt taken from a blog post Beth wrote for Vital Communities, she describes beautifully what I have been feeling during these times, too, in my spot of the Upper Valley, while supporting a high school student at home.
Over these past few weeks I have experienced waves of anxiety and sadness, and at the same time such gratitude. I can’t imagine going through this crisis in any other part of the world. The Upper Valley is an amazing place filled with amazing people and places. I have the ability to walk out my door and witness first-hand the coming of spring as the buds emerge and the mud slowly dries.
Beth further wrote in her blog about their successful experience creating a Family Quest, similar to a treasure hunt, that included special places near their house using cleverly-written clues. Click on this link to learn more about how she created the Family Quest.
Recently my teenage daughter, Faye, made it through the stress of three at-home Advanced Placement exams. Like many of us, she has had more screen-time than ever before for socializing, studying with others and attending classes. Today her AP Environmental Science class participated in an interesting real-life Webinar called Zoom A Scientist. With the lovely warmer spring weather, Faye and I are both more motivated to be outside for some of our Zoom meetings, exercising, physical-distance visits with local friends and walks with our puppy. The puppy, although a difficult and exhausting learner, has reminded us of the joy of being outside, fully in the moment, and connecting to everything, from below-ground up!
Thank you to our board members who were willing to share their stories from home so that we might relate more to our community. All of us from the Vermont Education and Environment Network sincerely hope you are able to feel connected with others and the out-of-doors, if only from a front step, window or screen. Stay safe and well.
Author: Nicole Conte