by Marc Heisterkamp, Executive Director
As a parent and as a leader of an educational organization, I witness daily the impacts of the pandemic on our youth. We try to emulate normal life as much as we can but we know the impacts are significant. Our youth are doubled down on screen time. Parents and caregivers are balancing the unworkable tasks of being a teacher and maintaining their job, and the loss of regular routine and social interactions with peers all take a significant and cumulative toll. Our teachers are asked to do the impossible this coming school year – keep students on track academically while pivoting formats, losing personal connections, and in many cases being the parent-teacher of their own children. Additionally, the economic toll on many families is real. The staggering job loss and its impacts, including food scarcity, are consequential to so many youth and the racial disparities of the impact lie bare the long-standing inequities that have existed. As we head into fall and a sustained season of rain, inside time, and online school for most, we need to recognize that our youth (and their parents and teachers) are not ok.
At NWOBS our typical programming has been significantly disrupted by the pandemic. Despite this, we have been determining how we can best rise to the occasion and serve youth during this time. We are leaning into our role as expert facilitators and educators, knowing that the same outcomes we facilitate on course or in physical classrooms can be developed in other ways. Importantly, we also know that youth need this now more than ever.
While early this year we would not have contemplated using virtual online sessions as our ‘classroom’, we are adjusting to the times and adapting our programming with schools and community partners. Typically, our students see tremendous leaps in self-regulation, physical confidence, teamwork, and assertiveness, just to name a few outcomes from our Domains of Thriving educational framework. In a virtual environment we will be constrained, as some domains like Physical Engagement will be prohibitive and others like Courage will need to be facilitated in unique and creative ways. But virtual programs and short format activities still provide tremendous opportunity for Belonging and Reflection, domains that likely are missing or have changed significantly for youth during the last five months. Helping our virtual classrooms become responsive and inclusive learning environments will enable academic learning and ensure a smoother return to in-person school when possible.
Domains of Thriving is a research-based observation tool that combines 50+ years of Outward Bound experience with current research on youth development. The tool codifies, promotes and measures the staff practices that support student growth. It is used to drive program quality improvement at the local, school and national levels and to support the ongoing development of Outward Bound instructional staff.
Domains of Thriving was developed in partnership with the NOAM Institute.
This fall we are working with our partner organizations to facilitate group virtual sessions and physically distanced day programming aimed at helping with that social and emotional learning gap. Our youth need engagement and social challenge as much as they need algebra and foreign language right now. We have always focused on ‘education for life’ and while we would prefer to be in our typical outdoor classrooms, we are confident that these skills can be taught in different ways during the pandemic. Further, while the pandemic will end, our students will face similar challenges and disruption throughout their lifetime, not to mention a more virtual world than any of us likely expected. Using nationally developed Outward Bound curriculum we are also offering Educator workshops through a series called The Thriving Classroom to help teachers refine approaches to social and emotional learning.
As together we lean into these opportunities, we should remember that we are helping these students find the relationship-building, collaboration and leadership skills that work in virtual environments, something many of us find challenging but extremely necessary right now. In so many ways we will be learning alongside our students during this time as parents, educators and as lifelong learners.