HOLDERNESS — Even with all the safety protocols students and staff must comply with in a pandemic, nothing beats “hands-on learning,” science teacher Kate England said.
England, the director of operations at the Beech Hill School in Hopkinton, and her seventh-graders spent a good part of last Wednesday at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center learning about field and forest ecology.
The excursion included masked-up, socially distanced time in the fields and woods around the Science Center.
The students also saw a presentation by a pair of naturalists about the difference between fields and forests and a discussion about which creatures live where.
Among its chief revenue sources, the Science Center charges visitors to explore its extensive trail system and for on-site learning.
Both were down significantly beginning in mid-March, she said, but they have improved as restrictions have eased and the Science Center has adapted by offering both remote-learning and in-person opportunities.
So far this year, Phillips said the Science Center has held about 30 virtual programs through which it connected with students statewide.
Used to holding classes in a filled amphitheater, Phillips now talks to a video camera from in front of a green screen.
Amanda Gillen, the Science Center’s marketing manager, said the coronavirus has had a major impact on the non-profit’s bottom line.
The trick, he said, is to look down at the camera, not up at the students who are remotely looking at him from a large monitor on the wall.
“You can do a lot of neat things with video,” said Phillips, such as getting much closer to an animal, but overall “we’re still learning the benefits”
“There was a lot of ‘figuring out,’ ” recalled Gillen, but she agreed with Phillips that “the model is working” and likely will beyond the pandemic.
Gillen credited some of the success of the Science Center’s virtual programs to being named a 2020 Citizens Bank Champion in Action, an honor that came with a $35,000 grant.
The money is a godsend, she said. A second huge benefit is that its use is unrestricted.
The Science Center has gotten federal relief funds, Gillen said, but those often require a lot of paperwork, can be restricted to a specific purpose and must be spent by a specific deadline.
The Champions in Action award, said executive director Iain MacLeod, has helped the Science Center “navigate through what has been a very difficult year.”
The center opened in 1966 with the mission to “advance understanding of ecology by exploring New Hampshire’s natural world.”