For more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic took away the opportunity for kids to take part in any in-person programs. They were stuck inside, taking classes via Zoom, “visiting” family on their phones and being socialized without any physical proximity. Teachers, too, felt this toll, with burnout common and new class setups proving to be difficult or ineffective.
“I know several teachers who retired early because of the pandemic and the way they had to teach. They would have a classroom half-full, but then also be teaching via Zoom at the same time; it was just impossible,” says Kim.
What Kim has observed as a problem for teachers is backed by a data-driven maxim: the best kind of scientific learning is hands-on. There is overwhelming evidence that especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), in-person, hands-on experience is critical for educational development. NatureBridge provides just that.
Kim sees NatureBridge as providing something else, too: tools for recovering from the pandemic. Part of that is due to NatureBridge’s emphasis on social-emotional learning (SEL), which has numerous benefits for both students and teachers.
“When [my students and I] came back from NatureBridge, we were as one, because we'd been through these completely new and different experiences,” says Kim. “And I would use the skills I’d learned — the social skills, the emotional skills, the way they’d get kids together — I’d incorporate them into my classroom.”
There are studies that show a positive link between close teacher-student relationships and educational and social development. There is even data that suggest reduced burnout and improved mental health for teachers can result from the fostering of close relationships with their students. Combine the strengthening of student-teacher bonds with social-emotional learning and time spent in nature, and NatureBridge has an opportunity to help restore much of what was lost in the isolating pandemic school year.