Blue Sky Fund’s Experiential Learning At Home Program Offers Opportunities for Richmond City Youth During COVID

Blue Sky Fund Experential Learning 1Here at the end of the school year, Blue Sky Fund is usually abuzz with staff finishing up science field trips, gathering gear for those last few campouts, and prepping for a long summer of backpacking trips. Blue Sky Fund serves students from Richmond’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, with a poverty rate three times higher than the Virginia average. Their outdoor education programs provide learning opportunities for urban youth to discover inner growth – especially resilience to overcome adversity – while exploring outdoor adventures. You could usually find Blue Sky Fund and their students at Belle Isle, Pocahontas State Park, Mt. Rogers, or just about any Richmond park you could think of. Usually.

However, 2020 has been anything but “usual.”

During these challenging times, Blue Sky’s students have been inside, distanced from familiar friends and routines, missing the many ways that they are used to summer learning and growing outside. Separated from their students, the staff at Blue Sky had to think outside the box to find ways to stay engaged with their community during this season. The team has repurposed their expertise to serve children now with experiential  learning resources that address the unique educational needs presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For students in the city without online access that might not be able to benefit from Richmond Public Schools’ RPS@Home virtual learning platform, Blue Sky is in the midst of distributing 1,500 hard-copy Home Science Learning Kits to families at ten RPS meal distribution sites.

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These science kits are geared toward K-5 grade students and include seven science lesson plans with all of the materials necessary to complete those activities. Blue Sky’s team is also creating 25 #ThinkOutsideWithBlueSky online learning videos, which are simple hands-on science lessons that can be completed in any outdoor space available to all families. These videos are published biweekly on Blue Sky’s social media channels and YouTube, and will continue to be released over the next few weeks until the scheduled end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Whether it’s activities to help kids learn about the different physical adaptations animals have to better survive in their environments, how to make a rain gauge to become your own weather man, or simply the encouragement to be curious in exploring the world around you, Blue Sky is providing these experiential learning opportunities to students. They are working in close collaboration with RPS to support the science curriculum for their virtual learning program; RPS has recently been making direct reference to Blue Sky’s #ThinkOutsideWithBlueSky videos and Home Science Learning Kit activities in their RPS@Home science lessons. Beyond supporting science education, Blue Sky is also facilitating weekly virtual outdoor experiences that are available to all RPS middle school students through NextUp’s online enrichment portal.

Over the past twelve years, Blue Sky has been a key partner to RPS in increasing students’ academic success in science and improving struggling schools’ accreditation status.

“In the time of the COVID 19 shutdown, Blue Sky Fund’s educators have continued to serve as a valuable partner to Richmond Public Schools by providing hands-on kits at a number of our food and curriculum pickup points for students and parents to use as learning tools. Additionally, BSF staff are advising the teachers involved in writing the RPS@Home science curriculum on best practices for communicating content and engagement, and how we can best reach our students with meaningful and relevant activities,” stated Josh Bearman, RPS Science Curriculum and Instructional Specialist.

While this pandemic presents significant challenges and Richmond’s students are in even greater need of the restorative power of the outdoors, Blue Sky is hopeful that their experiential education resources can reach a greater number of students and ease the burden of home education for families across the Greater Richmond Metro Area. Learn more about Blue Sky Fund and all they’re doing to help the Richmond community here!

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Content and images for this article were provided by Blue Sky Fund. Blue Sky Fund is a youth development non-profit that provides transformational experiences for urban youth through outdoor education.