BY JASON SOHIGIAN
Environmental education has been one of Armenia Tree Project’s major programs for the past 15 years, so when schools closed and people began following the norms of social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, the organization changed gears quickly.
In Armenia and in the Diaspora, ATP had an ambitious agenda of programs and visits scheduled with students, including preparations for diasporan students who were planning to visit Armenia to plant trees with their peers this spring. Within a week, most programs had been cancelled or postponed, so ATP’s educators went into action to present new material online.
“Many schools introduced web-based distance learning programs during this period and some have struggled with this due to a shortage of resources, so once again ATP stepped in to fill a gap around environmental education,” explains Executive Director Jeanmarie Papelian.
Impact on Education Programs in Armenia
The environmental education department had ambitious plans for spring in Armenia. This included strategy meetings with the youth Eco Clubs initiated by ATP around the country, to plan classes and field trips that would lead to green projects launched in their communities later in the year.
“Since the schools are closed and it’s currently a challenge to plan these activities with school directors and relevant governmental and local bodies, we decided to use this time to update our existing educational materials,” says Environmental Education Manager Kristine Hovsepyan. “Many of these lessons are connected with the Building Bridges youth newsletters on our website, and we began to share them with our partner teachers on a weekly basis.”
The education team also began developing new lessons. “Our educators in Armenia and in the US sprang into action and are working to put informative and engaging resources in the hands of students and families who are looking for ways to keep kids learning even when the schools are closed,” adds Papelian. “We still have a sense of urgency and commitment around these issues which are global and which will be affecting people and planet for years to come, even after the current crisis is under control.”
Building Bridges Program Engages Diaspora
The Building Bridges program was initiated to introduce ATP’s environmental education resources to students in the Diaspora, and to help connect diasporans with Armenia around environmental topics. A series of illustrated newsletters were created, as well as a “Kids & Family” tab on the ATP website with resources including videos and lessons.
This spring, ATP had a series of visits planned in California and across the East Coast to introduce new Building Bridges material to students, and prepare some of the classes for their upcoming trips to Armenia. When the situation changed, ATP started putting the resources online using email, the website, and social media.
“We’re going to miss seeing the students in person this spring,” notes Community Outreach Manager Anahit Gharibyan. “I was planning to visit more than a dozen schools in California, and our Boston team was planning the same for schools on the East Coast. We thought the next best thing would be to put this material online and get it out to families directly.”
For the past few weeks, ATP has been sending out a weekly email to its list with educational resources, and these are shared on its Facebook and Instagram pages. These include links to worksheets, environmental facts from ATP’s characters like Tchalo the gampr, and tips for coping with social distancing.
“We know that everyone is facing the effects of the coronavirus crisis, but we are following through on our commitments to people and the planet,” concludes Papelian. “This is why we also appealed to our supporters this spring, in order to keep this work going. As our founder Carolyn Mugar has said before, we are in this for the long-term. After the current crisis passes, we will still be working to reverse the environmental crisis.”