As the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts issued stay-at-home orders in response to coronavirus, Save The Bay adjusted quickly. Staff began working from home full-time in mid-March, with teams shifting focus to various projects based on accessibility to sites or the capabilities of partner agencies. While our education team has weathered many storms since we launched the “Explore The Bay” program in 1987—from losing federal funding in 2010, to surviving an actual hurricane that surged through our Exploration Center in 2012— the challenge of prolonged school closures raised new questions.
With students learning from home full-time, how would we continue to deliver meaningful Bay experiences? After days of strategizing, the Breakfast by The Bay series was born. Save The Bay educators moved their lessons online, going live on Facebook weekday mornings, and sharing the recorded videos on YouTube for viewers to watch when most convenient.
Our educators began preparing materials and video content that highlighted Narragansett Bay habitats and critters, and identifying recording sites at the Bay Center, Exploration Center & Aquarium, and local field sites around Narragansett Bay. Team members described a sincere confidence in one another. “We are really creative and flexible. I knew our team would be willing to work hard to ensure whatever project we attempted would be great and cutting edge,” said Jeannine Louro, educator & afterschool manager.
But “going virtual” was not without its challenges! This was Save The Bay’s first time going live on social media, a platform usually managed by the Marketing & Communications team, rather than the education team, who are far more used to teaching in-person in the field or classroom.
Some educators, like Jeff Swanlund, were nervous that the excitement that comes from teaching a lesson to an in-person audience would not translate to a virtual teaching experience. “I was very nervous that teaching on camera would feel unnatural and that I would have trouble without being able to gauge my audience’s reaction and feed off their energy. But I was excited for a new challenge.”
The question of an undefined audience also posed new challenges for Save The Bay educators, who can often gear a lesson to the specific school grade they are working with. The Facebook Live feature opened that audience wide.
Lessons, both taught and learned
Narragansett Bay truly is our oyster, offering endless subject matter for environmental education. Some Breakfast By The Bay lessons took place at the Exploration Center and Aquarium, where educators had easy access to many of the species found in our Bay, from horseshoe crabs and touch tanks resembling a local rocky shore, to Bowser, the beloved resident snapping turtle. Other lessons were hosted at the Bay Center, where educators replicated classroom activities like squid dissection, and lessons ocean acidification or buoyancy. Some days, Captains Jen and Eric even filmed from the water, presenting a live seal tour at Citing Rock in Newport, and showing how to test water quality in Narragansett Bay.
Breakfast by The Bay has allowed our educators to delve deeper into some concepts, and expand their curriculum moving forward. “Having the time and platform to discover more about the Exploration Center animals and ways in which they are unconventionally connected has been fun. I can now incorporate all of that new information into educating future students,” said Jess.
Breakfast by the Bay has also allowed the education team to observe each other teaching in a way that was not possible before remote learning—and this has been a learning experience for them, too. “I LOVE watching my fellow educators teach,” shared Letty. “I always think, Wow, I’ve never taught a lesson that way!”
In just a few weeks, Breakfast by the Bay received thousands of engagements online. It has been incredible to have so much support in viewership from our local community, and to see the reach of the series across the country. We’ve had viewers check in with us from Georgia, Michigan, Delaware, New York, Florida, North Carolina and as far west as California!
“It is so rewarding to see our team adapting to the change and rising to the challenge to keep Narragansett Bay in students’ lives,” shared Captain Jen. “We’ve all risen to the challenge to keep students, children, our followers and members engaged with Explore The Bay and Save The Bay. Breakfast by the Bay has really brought everyone together around Narragansett Bay. I hope this has created an even stronger bond within our Save The Bay community.”