Milford School District and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center have partnered this year to continue providing field experiences to students despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because students are still using a hybrid learning experience with some students still in a completely remote setting, the experiences will be conducted remotely this year.
“Abbott’s Mill has worked to pivot our traditionally hands-on rich field experiences with a remote environment,” Dr. Bridget Amory, Director of Student Learning, said. “While the experiences will be different this year, we are confident in Abbott’s Mill and their ability to engage our students. We are eager to resume our partnership and provide this opportunity for our students.”
Alice Mohrman, Education Coordinator/CWH Outreach for Abbott’s Mill Nature Center explained that the program’s goal for the partnership is to give children live interaction with a teacher/naturalist using visual demonstrations, observations and activities to connect them with science curriculum requirements such as Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems-Animals, Plants and their Environment.
“The Milford School District has partnered with the Delaware Nature Society at Abbott’s Mill since 2016 to provide local outdoor, hands-on field experiences for Kindergarten through fifth grade connected to curriculum and the Mispillion River watershed,” Mohrman said. “During these thirty-minute virtual programs, we are offering a “slice of” the field experiences which have been curtailed due to COVID-19.”
Amory explained that COVID guidelines currently do not permit field trips which was one of the reasons the district partnered with Abbott’s to offer the experiences virtually. Abbott’s Mill is planning to bring the “outdoors in,” encouraging students to explore while also sharing local connections to the natural environment. The program will include site-based videos, animal presentations and active student participation. Programs include “Discover the Forest” designed for Kindergarten students; “Life Cycles and Features for Survival” for first grade; “Seed Dispersal” for second grade; “Survival and Natural Selection” for grade three; “Read a Fish” for grade four and “Horseshoe Crab Habitat and Biology” for fifth graders.
“A wonderful result of our continued partnership with the Milford School District is that each student participates in a grade level field study program,” Mohrman said. “The yearly programs have a connecting thread, “water,” which supports and builds student understanding of science observation and skills, as well as a community association with local resources and the environment.”
Students in the elementary program who have prior experience with Abbott’s learning experiences are able to build on their prior knowledge and experiences, Amory stated.
“We have worked in partnership with Abbott’s to ensure alignment of the Next Generation Science Standards which guide our science instruction. The opportunity to engage with Abbott’s Mill is another vehicle for our students to apply and connect their learning to our community. Traditionally, our students have been eager to participate in the fish dissection, visit Slaughter Beach, learn about the horseshoe crab and experience seining. While the remote experience will not be quite the same, we are optimistic to spark student interest and curiosity in science and our natural world through this partnership.”
Mohrman stated that Abbott’s Mill is excited to support the connecting thread linking the outdoor field study programs that many students have participated in through their elementary education.
“Providing outdoor, experiential learning with student focused doing is the trademark of our programs at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center,” Mohrman said. “For example, students explore the forest habitat by hiding “big acorns” which invites the questions: How doe a squirrel remember where it’s acorn is stashed? What happens if a squirrel forgets their acorn? For our Milford School District virtual programs, using visuals of a forest and movement, we hope to convey a similar doing and thinking strategy with a 30-minute “slice” of one and a half hour outdoor adventure.”
Milford School District sees the importance of students seeing how programs can be adapted to remote learning while still exploring outside the classroom.
“There is always a sense of excitement and attention to learning that is adjusted when there is a special guest to the learning environment, whether it is in-person or remotely,” Amory explained. “We feel it is important for our students to see how we adapt our programming and continue to explore even when faced with hurdles. It is also important for our students, staff and families to recognize they have an incredible resource right here in our community backyard in Abbott’s Mill. Our local nature center, one of the many Delaware Nature Society centers, is a local resource that provides the opportunity to connect with our natural environment. There are a wealth of programs available to a range of ages in addition to being able to explore the numerous trails and wildlife.”
The Delaware Department of Education stipulated no field trips for the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Delaware Nature Society is also following COVID-19 protocols. The Abbott’s Pond Nature Center is currently closed and participants in outdoor programs are limited. The trails are open to the public as well as public bathrooms which are cleaned regularly.
“Our education staff at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center is excited to be challenged!” Mohrman said. “We are looking forward to reaching out to students in this virtual format, creating engaging opportunities and providing science content which supports curriculum.”
Amory stated that educators are also looking forward to continuing virtual hands-on experiments.
“If there is one thing we know about educators, it is that they are resilient,” Amory said. “Just as our students and families have, they have been meeting this challenge with perseverance, positive attitudes and a willingness to do what it takes to continue the important work of teaching and learning. We could not be more impressed with our own MSD community as well as the staff at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center who have embraced this opportunity.”