EdExploreSRQ has been a beacon of pride for the past ten years as one of the first initiatives adopted through an incredible collaboration between The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota County Public Schools. EdExploreSRQ is an online search platform connecting teachers, principals, and parents with experiential learning "Explorations" available throughout the community. Since the platform's creation, over 70 organizations have posted more than 250 Explorations vetted by Sarasota County Schools for alignment with curriculum standards. Since EdExploreSRQ's inception, over 500,000 student exploration experiences have taken place.
COVID presented opportunities to learn from this past year, uncovering the unexpected, suspending certainty. We have taken time to listen to our providers capturing their lessons learned, and so it is equally important to discover how teachers and parents responded to the virtual formats that EdExploreSRQ created this past year.
Tessa Healy, STEAM teacher at Wilkinson Elementary School in Sarasota County, facilitated 16 Explorations with Embracing Our Differences (EOD). She partnered with a colleague at North Port High School who leads the student Co-Existence Club. Students in the Co-Existence club paired up with students who have intellectual disabilities who, in turn, served as EOD exhibit docents for the elementary students. She commented, "We often underestimate the insights and brilliance of young people."
"They were mesmerized and then started talking about the details on the posters – fairies, doctors and nurses, dreams, rainbow colors. Even their teacher was surprised at their high-interest level while participating. The kindergarten students astutely summarized their observations of the exhibit with 'They all want to be helpers' and noticed that the rainbow colors were reversed on one poster. Another student commented, 'He's a rebel – it's ok to be yourself – who you are?'"
Ms. Healy almost preferred the virtual explorations because she was able to offer them to more students. The students were excited, extremely engaged, and especially enjoyed the involvement of the older students. The virtual experience eliminated many of the distractions, and the live docents brought the explorations to life. "As a Specials Teacher (elementary teachers who see all of the students, including subjects such as art, music, PE, Science, Technology), I rarely get a chance to have the depth of conversation with students that this virtual Exploration provided."
Two teachers selected one of the EOD portraits for an arts integration writing activity, using it as a primary source document to practice for the Florida State Assessment (FSA). "Pictures help kids who have difficulty with words."
Based on another teacher's recommendation, Katie Stritz, third grade teacher at Laurel Nokomis School, began using EdEdxploreSRQ for the first time this past year.
She enrolled students in three explorations:
- Van Wezel's Animal Habitats – Making Trioramas, where students explored the elements of animal habitats through visual arts.
- Circus Arts Conservatory's, I Want to Go To The Circus, where teaching artists engaged her students in a discussion about what happens at the circus. What might they eat? What might they see? Who might each student want to bring with them? What they might eat, drink, or buy?
The students had to choose activities and items to budget, spending the allotted pretend money they were given, and fluently added and subtracted multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.
- The final Exploration was Hands-On Origami Fractions with Teaching Artist Kuniko Yamamoto, who taught her students fractions. ½, ¼, ⅛. Using the art of paper folding, students created their own origami wallets.
It appears that virtual explorations were a big hit last year with the teachers, having far greater appeal than expected. Teachers seemed to appreciate having a menu of high-quality, hands-on arts, cultural, civic, and economic experiences to offer their students. Even during a Pandemic, more students gained access to experiential learning via the EdExploreSRQ platform.