Environmental education has been one of Armenia Tree Project’s main programs for the past 15 years. So when schools closed and people started following social distancing norms to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, the organization quickly shifted gears.
In Armenia and the Diaspora, the ATP had an ambitious schedule of programs and visits scheduled with students, including preparations for Diaspora students who planned to visit Armenia to plant trees with their peers this spring. . Within a week, most programs had been canceled or postponed, so ATP educators sprang into action to showcase new material online.
“Many schools have introduced web-based distance learning programs during this time and some have struggled with this due to a lack of resources, so once again the ATP has stepped in to to fill a gap in environmental education,” says executive director Jeanmarie Papelian.
Impact on education programs in Armenia
The environmental education department had ambitious plans for spring in Armenia. This included strategic meetings with ATP-initiated youth eco-clubs across the country, to plan courses and field trips that would lead to green projects being launched in their communities later in the year.
“Given that schools are closed and it is currently difficult to plan these activities with school principals and relevant government and local bodies, we have decided to use this time to update our existing teaching materials” , explains Kristine Hovsepyan, head of environmental education. “Many of these lessons are linked to the Building Bridges youth newsletters on our website, and we have started sharing them with our teacher partners on a weekly basis.”
The educational team has also started to develop new lessons. “Our educators in Armenia and the United States have taken action and are working to put informative and engaging resources into the hands of students and families who are looking for ways to ensure that children learn even when the schools are closed,” adds Papelian. “We still have a sense of urgency and commitment around these issues which are global and will affect people and the planet for years to come, even after the current crisis is under control.”
The Building Bridges program mobilizes the diaspora
The Building Bridges program was launched to introduce ATP environmental education resources to diaspora students and to help connect diasporas to Armenia around environmental topics. A series of illustrated newsletters were created, as well as a “Kids & Family” tab on the ATP website with resources including videos and lessons.
This spring, the ATP had planned a series of visits to California and the East Coast to introduce students to the new Building Bridges material and prepare some of the classes for their upcoming trips to Armenia. When the situation changed, ATP started putting the resources online using email, website and social media.
“We’re going to miss seeing the students in person this spring,” notes Anahit Gharibyan, community outreach manager. “I planned to visit over a dozen schools in California, and our team in Boston planned the same for schools on the east coast. We thought the best thing to do would be to put this material online and distribute it directly to families. »
For the past few weeks, the ATP has sent a weekly email to its roster with educational resources, and these are shared on its Facebook and Instagram pages. These include links to worksheets, environmental facts from ATP characters like Tchalo the gampr, and tips for coping with social distancing.
“We know that everyone is facing the effects of the coronavirus crisis, but we are respecting our commitments to people and the planet”, concludes Papelian. “This is why we also appealed to our supporters this spring, in order to continue this work. As our founder Carolyn Mugar once said, we’re here for the long haul. Once the current crisis has passed, we will continue to work to reverse the environmental crisis. »