March 2020 brought new challenges for everyone across the globe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As Zoom became a household name and social distancing was put into effect, we knew here at The Grassroot Project that things were going to have to be a little different this year.
Every year, we train nearly 200 Division 1 student-athletes to be program facilitators. They take the lead in DC classrooms, facilitating our three comprehensive sexual health, nutrition, and mental health curricula. Our curricula use sports and games to create a fun and safe space for middle school youth to talk about uncomfortable topics surrounding their health. Middle schoolers in TGP programs consistently increase both their health knowledge and self-efficacy to make healthy life choices by the end of our programs.
Once the pandemic sent most of our students and student-athlete coaches home, we asked ourselves: how can we make this work?
From March until the end of the academic year, we called upon our student-athlete coaches to harness their creativity and convert lessons in our curriculum into fun and engaging videos. These videos were made publicly available so that anyone could watch and learn more about topics surrounding the basics of HIV, what coping mechanisms are, and how to stay strong when facing challenges in life.
Although these videos were engaging and informative for middle school students, TGP knew that with the start of the 2020-21 academic year, entirely virtual, comprehensive health education programming for students in various classroom settings, with differing school schedules, was going to be necessary. Because we know the power of student-athlete facilitation and interactive lessons, we took the summer to build out online curricula in the Nearpod platform. These lessons encompass sexual health, nutrition, mental health, and an added COVID-19 curriculum! After closely working with DC middle schools and student-athlete volunteers, we have full faith in the success of our virtual programs.
“Since 2009, TGP has maintained a special relationship with DC middle schools. One of the reasons I think TGP programming is so successful is because of these relationships. TGP works with the same students and families for three years and creates relationships with teachers that dig deeper than just weekly programming. Teachers that partner with TGP help to inform our health curricula, mentor our student-athletes, and truly become members of the TGP family. Virtual programming is no different. Our schools and teachers are working around the clock to create the best learning environment for students, and TGP is here to help enhance that environment and maintain a commitment to teaching health education during this global pandemic.” – Jane Wallis, Director of Programs
Nearpod is a virtual education platform that allows for engaging synchronous and asynchronous lessons. This means that our facilitators have the ability to call in via Zoom and facilitate the Nearpod session live during synchronous virtual-classroom time. Or, our teachers can make our lessons available for students to participate on their own time, during designated asynchronous, or individual, at-home work time. This flexibility allows schools to continue health education programming from TGP in a way that fits their individual needs. The curriculum is also built to engage students in not just the health content but help students to apply it to their current health questions and struggles.
The engagement of our student-athletes is a large part of TGP’s model for success. Since we have created a new way to administer our curricula, we will be hosting a Virtual Program Training for all of our current volunteers on how to be the best virtual program facilitators for our programs.
“As we worked on bringing our curricula virtual, our focus has been: how do we ensure we bring ALL of The Grassroot Project to the table? For me, this means ensuring our curricula are strong (even in a virtual setting), but it also means the culture of TGP has to shine through an online platform. Student-athletes will be a huge part of creating that culture. By hosting our very first ever Virtual Facilitation Training, our goal is to help student-athlete coaches maintain the interactive and fun energy of TGP virtually, while also being prepared to use platforms like Nearpod and Zoom with middle school students.” –Mackenzie Jones, Program Manager
None of this would be possible without the incredible support of our stakeholders, partners, student-athletes, teachers, administrators, and students who are working with us and adapting to the ever-changing nature of these unprecedented times. Even though this Fall will look different than anything this organization has ever done before, we know that The Grassroot Project will be resilient in bringing consistent quality programming to middle school youth. Click here to contribute to our cause.