On March 1, 2020, the Sultana Education Foundation’s (SEF) spring programming season was fully booked with scheduled field experiences for students on the Chesapeake Bay. “This was going to be one of the Foundation’s busiest spring seasons in our history, with thousands of students lined up to explore the Bay and its tidal tributaries aboard the schooner Sultana, paddling on canoes or kayaks, and visiting the Holt Education Center in Chestertown,” said SEF’s Vice President, Chris Cerino. “Unfortunately, that all changed over the course of two weeks in mid-March due to the advent of the COVID-19 health crisis in Maryland.”
The spread of coronavirus led to school closures nationwide and a sudden and radical shift to distance learning. This also led to the cancellation of all SEF’s spring field programs. In response to this unprecedented situation, SEF staff members quickly pivoted to create an entirely new web site where a plethora of online resources for classroom teachers were posted. This included over 60 videos with topics ranging from the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay to the history of the Schooner SULTANA, and the rich culture of Native Americans in the region. The resulting web site, www.sultanaclassroom.org, now offers teachers with unprecedented access to quality, classroom-ready instructional materials that will be available for years to come.
In addition to the site, SEF launched an online field trip initiative known as “Virtual Classroom, LIVE!”, proving to be exceedingly popular with students and teachers alike. SEF’s talented teaching staff made virtual lessons come to life using historic artifacts, primary documents, and even live critters from the Education Center’s Wet Lab. In May and early June, SEF conducted over 50 live sessions, reaching approximately 1,000 students from throughout Maryland and Delaware.
For teachers coping with the new reality of teaching their students entirely over the internet, SEF’s live programs were a welcome addition to their repertoire. “Sultana took a very difficult situation for my students and made it a positive experience that they will never forget,” stated Justin Crew, 4th grade teacher at Kennard Elementary School. “Our local students are blessed to have an organization that is solely focused on the educational betterment of every student that they encounter, whether it be face to face or virtually.”
“Wow! I can’t say enough positive things about our grade level class meeting this morning!” said Tiffany Kennedy, a third grade teacher at Galena Elementary School. “Thanks to the Sultana team we learned about a Secchi disc, oxygen levels in the water, SAVs, and much more. We even saw animals from the Chesapeake Bay! It couldn’t have been any better. The kids were so engaged, and we love how interactive you made our hour together.”
“One of the best experiences during Church Hill Elementary School’s two months of online learning was our Virtual Classroom Live experience with the Sultana Education Foundation,” added Paul Taylor, a 4th grade teacher at the school. “The Sultana staff customized the program to my curriculum needs and engaged my students with artifacts and questions during our program. I tried virtual trips with other organizations, but those did not have nearly the level of interactive learning and excitement as the SEF’s Virtual Classroom Live program.”
Moving forward, SEF will continue developing the website and live programs ensuring the organization is poised to offer unique assistance to regional teachers during the 2020-21 school year. “Right now, nobody really knows what school is going to look like this fall,”said Cerino. “But whatever the format, SEF will be ready to assist and continue delivering our unique programs and resources to area students and teachers.”
About the Sultana Education Foundation
Founded in 1997, the Sultana Education Foundation is a private nonprofit dedicated to providing unique, hands-on educational opportunities that promote stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay’s historic, cultural, and environmental legacies. The Foundation is a two-time recipient of the National Maritime Historical Foundation’s Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Maritime Education.
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