At The Grassroot Project (TGP), we’re constantly evaluating, evolving, and innovating our approach to health education and community engagement. So when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to in-person activities for young people in Washington, DC, our team had to be responsive to the needs of the community, answering the call for health education. We put our heads together, met with local partners and stakeholders, and quickly formed a virtual plan to rework our curriculum and approach to continue to deliver on our promise to advance health equity through sport.
Recognizing that our traditional in-person model had to shift to virtual for the unforeseeable future, we knew that we had the challenge to keep our students and athletes engaged through interactive and impactful content. But most importantly, we knew that we had to keep the heart and soul of this organization in focus: OUR COMMUNITY. So you spoke…and we listened! We successfully continued to deliver critical health education to middle school youth during this public health crisis.
And there is so much to celebrate! In the 2020-21 academic year, we preserved partnerships with 12 public charter middle schools, and our students ages 9-14 completed more than 7,000 hours of virtual health education led by our volunteer student-athletes. Hailing from GW, Georgetown, Howard, and American, these student-athletes collectively completed more than 850 hours of service!
HOW THE PANDEMIC AFFECTED OUR WORK
Before the pandemic, both physical and health education was covered in every TGP lesson. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we focused primarily on health education standards for two reasons:
- To accommodate at-home learning. Our team created interactive lessons through the Nearpod platform for each of the three main health curricula: nutrition and physical activity, sexual health, and mental health promotion. We also created and rolled out six COVID-19 lessons, and four comprehensive review sessions, totaling 40 unique lessons.
- To allow more time for critical conversations around personal and community health. We worked with more than 1,000 individuals, including middle school students, parents, teachers, and volunteer student-athletes, in the DC community providing critical COVID-19 information and a space to discuss the real impact of mental, sexual, and nutritional health. We were intentional in creating smaller groups to ensure that TGP staff and student-athlete volunteers were able to connect more deeply and meaningfully with students using the Zoom break out rooms and chat board functions.
GOING VIRTUAL HAS ITS PERKS!
Adapting to virtual programming has been quite the learning experience not only for our students, coaches, and staff, but also for our team. And while we know the value of in-person programming cannot be matched, we’ve learned A LOT about how we can continue to innovate and adapt to provide critical health education.
A Logistical Dream: TGP now has virtual capabilities for the future
As we reimagine what’s possible for students, our team can now leverage our established, virtual presence. For starters, TGP will offer online lessons when a student misses an in-person program. For every in-person activity there is a Nearpod session already created, which can be easily adjusted with very little staff time. Then, facilitators and PE teachers can receive a complete report so they can help students fill in any gaps in learning. Absent students will stay up-to-date on health lessons that build off of each other each week, and TGP will be able to provide additional remedial and enrichment materials.
In addition to benefiting students, having virtual capabilities will tremendously help TGP staff and coaches during their professional development training. This is when our student-athletes learn best practices for facilitation, and ground themselves in the TGP curriculum. The best thing about having an online training option is that sessions can be consistently reused, serve as refresher courses, and allow student-athletes to access content at all times.
Student engagement is up, because they have more options
Now that programming is in-person again, we’re taking the good parts of the virtual experience back into classrooms. TGP staff and volunteers noticed that in many cases, online programming helped students be even MORE candid and form meaningful relationships. Programming felt extra inclusive because students had the option to respond to polls and short-answer questions anonymously, as well as type responses in collaborative discussion boards. Student participation skyrocketed because they had the chance to formulate their own opinions before listening to “group think.” This is especially important because conversations regarding health are inevitably going to affect each student differently.
Moving forward, we’ve reworked in-person sessions to include more individual reflection and small group time. This will maximize student engagement, and help facilitators more easily adapt to students’ various learning styles. Students will continue to have opportunities to express different opinions, but still learn from one another. We found that when students have options in HOW they engage with content, the more excited they are to participate.
We now have a better way to get feedback!
Our team values feedback. For the first time, we successfully conducted pre-and-post student surveys completely online using the Qualtrics evaluation app. Surveys help our team better understand students’ learning experiences, and give us another tool in our arsenal to make programming better. Many students said they prefer using the app to a paper survey, and the accuracy and speed of data entry allows TGP to use the data more accurately and efficiently. We’ll continue to administer surveys online, in-person, and on tablets.
If you’d like to learn more about our Covid response, please join us for our very first,
This virtual event will be an opportunity to interact with our team, get a sneak peek into our 2022 programming, and learn more about how TGP’s Curriculum has evolved.