Typically in March, more than 1,000 students would have descended onto the Oschmann Forest Conservation Area in North Dundas to take part in an outdoor Maple Syrup Education program hosted by South Nation Conservation (SNC), but for the second year in a row, the Pandemic put a tap into SNC’s plans to bring students onsite.
Instead, SNC adapted by making virtual field trips and partnered with the Ottawa Catholic School Board to share new maple syrup education videos with more than 30,000 students across hundreds of classrooms throughout the Capital Region.
The video developed for grades 3 to 6 runs about 45 minutes and features SNC staff at the Oschmann Forest sharing curriculum-based information on maple syrup production, history, First Nations, and forest ecology, complete with segments highlighting bilingual keywords, Oschmann donor family history, tree tapping, and wildlife sightings.
A shorter 30-minute video was created for kindergarten to grade 2 which features similar content but slightly modified for their age group.
The videos were produced entirely in-house and were shared with the School Board in March to help supplement in-class learning for the week formerly known as March Break, and to coincide with the maple syrup season.
With new provincial stay at home orders in place, the Conservation Authority has now made both videos publicly available for viewing on its YouTube Channel in an effort to connect with more families and youth at home during the April Break.
“Although we are sad we couldn’t host students onsite this year, these new videos are the next best thing to being at the Oschmann Forest to learn about maple syrup and the local environment,” says John Mesman, SNC’s Outreach Lead.
That’s not to say the Oschmann Forest didn’t get any use this year. The park is open year-round to the public, and SNC also hosted a modified Maple Weekend on March 27 which saw more than 200 area residents show up to walk the park’s interpretive nature trails while staff handed out free hot chocolate and maple treats.
Sap is also collected from the forest and is sold to a local producer who turns it into maple syrup on behalf of the Authority. Due to the early onset of spring, SNC recorded an unusually short maple season, collecting only 2,450 gallons over a two-week period in March, compared to 8,600 gallons last year.
SNC is hopeful students can return for in-person learning at the forest next spring and staff can soon resume delivering in-class environmental education, but the Authority is also well-positioned to continue delivering virtual learning and will be expanding its digital education portfolio through new opportunities this year.
“It’s extremely important for us to continue to find ways to connect with students on the importance of protecting our local environment during the Pandemic. Today’s youth are the environmental stewards of tomorrow,” adds John Mesman.
Local teachers interested in partnering with the Authority on a virtual educational opportunity are encouraged to contact SNC at [email protected] or 1-877-984-2948.