What can DRC offer our student members during a global pandemic? Back in March, I struggled with this question mightily. We have always provided a physical space filled with resources and materials, where spontaneity and creativity ruled our daily itinerary, as well as an open environment free of coercion and compulsory activities. We never had a formal schedule of classes that everyone adhered to, let alone shared on a video chat.
And, to be honest, in the middle of March, when we shut down the first time, despite trying to offer an alternative way to "do DRC" on Discord or Google Meet, our kids straight-up refused. They were happy to check in every few weeks to report on what they were working on, so we could write their homeschool progress reports together, but they honestly didn't need DRC.
Fast forward through the Summer when I spent my days preparing to be, in-person, at both Centers, with as many safety precautions in place as humanly possible, in September. One of those built-in safety features came directly from the St. Lawrence University Community Based Learning Program who sends us student volunteers each semester. They had decided to have their students participate in the program following a completely remote model. This fall, they assigned us, seven students, for two hours a week, each.
That was the impetus we needed to create a weekly slate of virtual sessions based entirely on what our student members requested, as well as the talents and knowledge that the SLU students wanted to share with our kids. We supplemented what they were offering with sessions filled with hands-on activities facilitated by the DRC staff.
The other driving force behind this first-ever formal schedule was our newly designed distance learning program. Without a daily itinerary, the distance learning peeps would not know when to connect with us virtually.
I am happy to say that, in Canton, it worked! Well, with a few technical glitches that are part of learning a new system, as well as hourly reminders that classes were starting. It worked so well that we began offering the hands-on sessions that the staff was facilitating as virtual options, too. And, when kids stayed at home because of illness or anxiety about COVID, they continued to connect to their sessions remotely.
I should mention that during the fall, the Lawrenceville (DRC- East) Peeps didn't participate in the virtual schedule. They were happily engaged with their hands-on, completely spontaneous immersion in whatever "lit their fire" on any particular day.
Fast forward, again, to mid-November, when COVID numbers began rising in St. Lawrence County, and a good number of our families were keeping their children home. Our daily numbers at the Canton Center dropped to three to five kids. We decided, once again, to close. At that point, the SLU students had one more week of their sessions before they finished the semester. After our experience during the Spring, I was nervous. Would our kids want to, or even remember to, sign in to their virtual classes? For the most part, they did!
That confirmation was all we needed to set-up a new schedule of remote sessions facilitated by the staff and DRC kids following Thanksgiving week. Again, these are classes and activities that our student members specifically requested. Many are carry-overs from the previous schedule with a new facilitator, and a few are new.
We are now two weeks into this new itinerary, and I am thrilled to report that most of our kids signed up for a good number of sessions (including the Lawrenceville Peeps), and they are showing up. Not only that, but we are noticing that they hang out after their sessions are technically over, sometimes for hours.
What have we learned through all this? Firstly, we have proven, again, that, as an organization, we are unbelievably flexible. We are adept at providing for all the needs of our student members within the confines of any given situation, even if we have to create something, quite literally, on the fly.
Secondly, we have confirmed (once again) that our non-coercive methods work. These kids are actively engaged and are making connections to their community, the people they have grown to trust, and, yes, love - even when there are additional hoops to jump through. (No one is sitting next to them, telling them to turn on their computers and sign-in.)
And lastly, as we already know, human beings, are naturally designed to grow and learn, which means we will intrinsically adapt and, yes, even thrive when given the opportunity.
* P.S. - Gratitude to Elian, who is facilitating the majority of these virtual sessions, as well as Chase and Ryan for showing up for our kids every day.
DRC is open to any child who is struggling and unhappy with their virtual or hybrid school experience. Contact us today to learn more about our Distance Learning Programs.
We are sending out a shout of gratitude to the Canton Community Fund Board of directors. They approved our grant asking for five Chromebooks. Thanks to them, our Canton students have, all-important, access to their community.
We are still seeking contributions to our Fall Funding Appeal. You can donate here, or you can send a check directly to DRC at 48 Riverside Dr., Canton, NY 13617. Thank you!