MYSTIC, Conn. - Harnessing the power of Facebook Live and YouTube, the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center (DPNC) has not stopped providing public education programming since Connecticut entered into a coronavirus shutdown on March 20.

“The majority of our revenue comes from our educational programming which in turn supports other mission-based programs such as the Giving Garden,” said Davnet Conway Schaffer, executive director of the Center, “so we were concerned that the cancellation of all those programs due to the governor’s order would cause real damage to our budget.”

Luckily, Conway Schaffer said, several event sponsors and multiple grantors told the Center it could use their funds to support online programming. Three times a week the Center hosts a free educational Facebook Live event Tuesday through Thursday at 10 a.m., and then adds those videos to its YouTube channel. Additionally, it is scheduling online learning with area schools in place of in-person field trips.

“We pivoted to distance learning immediately upon the start of working from home. We began providing the material to ease the transition for families at home and found a new market and great support,” noted DPNC Director of Development Vera Harsh.

Aquarion Water Company and StoneRidge Retirement Community, both of which annually sponsor the Center’s Celebrate Earth programs in April, gave DPNC permission to use the funding to support the Facebook Lives. Grantors that gave similar approval to support online learning include: Nordson, Pfizer, Veolia/New London Water Authority, Mystic Garden Club, Community Foundation of Eastern CT, Dominion, Eightmile River Watershed, and Stonington Garden Club.

The Center’s Facebook Lives have been wildly popular. According to Facebook data, viewers have watched from all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe. Topics range from “All About Foxes” to “Vernal Pool Exploration” to “Identifying Poison Ivy.” Each video typically garners more than 1,000 views.

Spring is typically a busy time for the Nature Center as schools schedule educational field trips to visit the sanctuary and learn about the environment. The Center has created online programming through Zoom and Google Classroom for students, supported by grants. Because the learning is virtual, some schools that would not have been able to have an actual field trip have signed on for programming as well. Some classes include:

● Beavers as Engineers for Groton Public Schools second grade

● Pond Life in the Eightmile River Watershed for Salem School fifth graders

● Animal Adaptations for third graders in East Haddam Public Schools

● Owls for Hampshire Country School, N.H.

Throughout the spring the Center has scheduled a variety of online learning, ranging from garden programs led by Craig Floyd, Coogan Farm manager, and weekly early childhood education classes. These programs charge a fee. Visit dpnc.org/calendar/ for the full schedule of online programs.

Connecticut Media Group