Project Learning Tree Survives COVID and is Now Back in Person

This time last year the Project Learning Tree Program (PLT) was plunged into a new normal. Last year’s numbers had plummeted, but it doesn’t mean that it was a slow year. New subjects came to the forefront and SFI and National PLT answered the call to make sure that PLT remained relevant during the pandemic. An increased call from educators looking for curriculum ideas and methods became the number one focus. Most educators, with exception of a few counties, were not ready for online/virtual learning.

WVPLT worked with some of our local facilitators to produce some videos that could be used by teachers. We also canvassed any local forest industries for any information or digital material they may have to share. National PLT hit the ground running and produced several grade-specific activities for educators to use. Biodiversity blitz, Sensational Trees, and Discover Your Urban Forest were introduced as well as the new Explore Your Environment: K–8 Guide. And a sad fact began to surface that many educators were uncomfortable or couldn’t see how to make a classroom in the outdoors. WVPLT worked with many state educators to assist in helping them adjust. Most was bringing the multi-disciplinary subjects and teach them in the outdoor setting.

During the fall of 2020, the new PLT secondary module Green Jobs: Exploring Green Careers was introduced. National PLT worked to transition many curriculum modules into a virtual format. During that time, all coordinators were in training monthly to bring them up to speed on interpreting educational standards, getting them more comfortable training virtually, and reviewing new content. We were also encouraged to incorporate an understanding in diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.

In West Virginia, educators transitioned to virtual but wanted to know the minute WVPLT was back to in-person learning. This past year was a unique time, but it also showed some of our facilitators how we could branch out and reach other audiences. Several Zoom trainings with facilitators were held to get them comfortable with using the platform. We checked audio, video, camera locations, and found that most of us can speak in front of an audience but become deliberate when talking to a camera making sure the information gets related factually.

WVPLT usually conducts an Early Childhood workshop at the Statewide Celebrating Connections conference. This year it was virtual. Four facilitators trained 71 educators. It was different but still productive. Several took a virtual Early Childhood workshop after the virtual training. We were able to conduct two Steering Committee meeting, trained students from WVU students in Recreation and Parks and a facilitators class at Davis for participants from the National Youth Science Camp, WVDNR, WVDEP, and Marshall University.

Virtually, WVPLT was present and conducted trainings at the Mineral County STEM festival and the Friends of Decker’s Creek Watershed program. A blog on summer fun activities was released citing several PLT activities that families can use to get outside. Lastly, we participated in Jr. Conservation Camp. The State Conservation Camp did not happen this year, but we look forward to next year.

Even though it has been a unique year with its unique challenges, WVPLT continues to move ahead and looks forward to growing the appreciation for West Virginia’s Forests. We couldn’t do it without your support and for that I thank you.