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Transitioning to Cyberspace: Adventures in SSP

The Student Stewards Program here at Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation creates and provides all kinds of programs for our local community. Ordinarily, we would be able to hold such things as our Junior Naturalist Program and our in-class lessons in person, but due to current circumstances, we’ve had to adapt. Through our new programs, we have so far reached almost 300 students!

Previously, our teams could go to schools and provide lessons from there. Right now, we cannot do that. So, we have transitioned to fully online classes, with our lessons being attached to videos as well as boxes of supplies that we prepare and distribute for each class. Each box contains everything needed for the lesson, and they’re dropped off at the school before the lessons start for the week.

Screenshot of a Zoom presentation on identifying insects
Educators Kristina and Keaton teaching a class virtually.

All of our SSP modules cover different STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics like insects, weather, plants, birds, as well as many others. These lessons serve our local school community, allowing students to engage in hands-on activities that our educators guide alongside teachers. All of this takes place over Zoom to keep everyone safe and healthy while exploring the wonder of science around us.

A masked woman sits at a park table and spreads peanut butter on a pinecone to make a natural bird feeder
Educator Kristina demonstrating an experiment for JNATs

A large part of our transition involves making videos to either attach to our lessons or for our Student Stewards Program Youtube page. The Junior Naturalist Program (JNATs) is now exclusively online as well, and instead of hosting live classes, we put together videos that encourage participants to explore the park showcased in the lesson and try out some of the crafts and experiments within.

With access to this kind of virtual programming, students and non-students alike can explore new scientific concepts in the safety of their homes. JNATs also provides materials for crafts and experiments every other month, with the alternating months using experiments with readily available household materials.

A smiling man stands in front of a steaming hole in the ground
AmeriCorps Educator Danny talking about volcanic activity

On top of our core youth programs becoming virtual, we have also been working on and launching new ideas. The Student Stewards Newsletter “Explorations” showcases different crafts and activities for families and students to explore. Each month covers a different topic, such as geology or ice and snow. Activities included are scientific in nature and encourage students to explore these topics further.

On top of that, a video of our own making is included as well, further covering our topic of choice. These newsletters go out through email to our various participating families.

A woman in the park stirs a steaming bowl
VISTA Haley making dry ice cream

Last is our Go Explore the Outdoors Challenge app. This app will guide older students into exploring twenty of Reno and Sparks’ local parks. Each park has challenges attached that students can complete to obtain points and get prizes. Challenges all have to do with park history, STEM topics, or critical thinking. Through these challenges, students will have the opportunity to learn more about their local parks and even city history. This app is set to launch during Spring break.

Transitioning to new concepts, like virtual classes, can be daunting at first, but the Student Stewards Program has managed to continue reaching students and future scientists. Our virtual programs will continue on and evolve and will keep reaching bright minds.


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