There are very few things the global COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed, but one of them is Greenways Land Trust’s dedication to creating future stewards of our environment.
Greenways’ school-based programs – including their popular Junior Streamkeepers initiative – are still rolling along, teaching our youth to love our physical world and protect our natural places.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. They’re not still rolling along; they’re rolling again.
“When we went into spring break, I feel like we all sort of knew that we wouldn’t be going back after,” says Community Engagement Coordinator Josie Simpson, who oversees the organization’s school-based activities. “And I think, even at that time, we knew it was going to be a long while until things went back to normal.”
But as the school year approached, filled with uncertainty for everyone, the organization decided they still needed to be available to help in any way they could, no matter how things shook out. And, as it turns out, how things shook out was that more teachers wanted to get their kids outside even more than most years, Simpson says.
“It’s actually been really good,” Simpson says. “A lot of the schools have forest spaces on the property or very nearby, and it feels like more teachers are wanting to see what they can do to make use of them and thinking of ways to expand their classrooms into them. So a lot of what we’ve been doing is adapting our educational programs to keep things on school grounds, make use of those areas and avoid things like busing.”
While it’s understandable that people would want to be taking advantage of the opportunity to be outdoors – and even encouraged to do so by the provincial health officer – there are obviously some complications involved in having staff and volunteers going in and out of children’s bubbles in order to help educate them.
“One of the biggest questions was whether we were going to be able to even be near the classes,” Simpson says. “We didn’t know how the logistics were going to work or even whether or not there would even be field trips. There was talk that maybe nobody would be going anywhere, which was concerning, because we do a lot of stuff out in city parks and other natural areas.”
Thankfully, Simpson says, they soon found out they would be treated much the same way as educational assistants and teachers-on-call.
“I can’t get in super close to look at the bugs with the kids, but we can figure that out,” she says. There are also a few of their educational tools that won’t be put into use this year, such as their tabletop watershed model.
“Usually we all kind of cram around the model and we’re passing things to each other and trying things out, so that’s basically on pause,” she says. “But for the most part, we’re able to go ahead with things and just adapt. We minimize the number of tools we use, have a rigorous cleaning procedure between tool use, we’re using single-use gloves, that kind of thing.”
The main concern is how their volunteer pool will look as they move forward in this new reality.
“A lot of our volunteers are older folks who are retired, and some others have partners with health issues or elderly parents in the family picture, so they obviously have to be more careful these days,” Simpson says. “So I think we will see a decrease in our existing volunteer base.”