The Amigos de Bolsa Chica-National Geographic Summer Institute for Educators Report
By Jen Mendez

The Amigos de Bolsa Chica Summer Institute was a free program designed to help California Middle and High School Environmental Science/ Ecology/ Sustainability teachers convert their existing in-person class to whatever COVID-19 response plan is to be implemented by their school districts for fall 2020 (e.g. distance learning, in-person, and/or hybrid formats). Held from July 13 – July 24, 2020, classes took place three days a week through Zoom. The 2020 Summer Institute for Educators was facilitated and organized by Joana Tavares-Reager, Gwen Noda, and Kimi Waite.

Originally, the Institute was going to give priority to Title 1 schools in Southern California, but we decided to expand the applications as there was high interest in the program. We ended up hosting 26 educators including fellow Amigos, educators from various states, and educators from around the globe including Portugal, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and Spain. Although the program included information that was specific to Southern California school districts, we felt there was a lot to gain for educators not in the specified area, as various useful topics and resources would be shared and discussed. It is important to note that this program was designed to help and support the participants and not add additional work and stress, so educators were encouraged to attend when they had the time and energy.

At the start of the program, there was still a lot of uncertainty of what the COVID-19 response plans were going to be for many school districts, so we explored a variety of different strategies and resources to overcome expected challenges in adapting class plans for COVID-19’s “new normal.”

The 2020 Amigos Summer Institute included Phase 1 training to become a National Geographic Certified Educator, led by Kimi Waite. Teachers who completed phase 1 training of the National Geographic certification gained access to an online community of global educators who share a passion for teaching students about the world and how it works-empowering them to succeed and make it a better place. Participants who signed up with National Geographic after Phase 1 will be notified this fall about starting Phase 2 training. It will involve utilizing National Geographic lessons, materials, and resources with their students.

In addition to Phase 1 training, the Summer Institute featured various guest speakers for each session including:

  • Shannah Hannibal: Educator, Author, Assistant Principal at Sullivan Middle School in Charlotte, SC
  • Dr. Kat Usher: Lead Curriculum Designer and Curator; Science and Technology Teacher at Willingdon, Montreal Quebec
  • Ivy Castro: First Grade Teacher and the Lower School Equity and Inclusion Co-Coordinator at the Berkeley Carroll School in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York City
  • Jen Abbate: Lower School Spanish Coordinator and Lower School Equity and Inclusion Co-Coordinator at the Berkeley Carroll School in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York City
  • Segerstrom High School science students (who formed PlanetQuest in an effort to make a difference and stay involved): Student issues with distance learning and suggestions for educators
  • Gianna Lum, ClimatePedia: How to connect, engage with, and motivate students online and foster student civic engagement and environmental advocacy during COVID-19

These speakers all provided useful information on how to include diversity, equity, and inclusion into the classroom as well as resources and tips for teaching science online, and maintaining student engagement during COVID-19.

As the Summer Institute came to a close, we created a survey for the attendees to fill out and provide feedback. The participants suggested to offer this program again so we agreed to offer another Institute but with the main direction and facilitation being led by the educators who were part of the 2020 Institute (as a steering committee). It is undetermined when the next Institute will take place, but we are working on getting stipends/honorarium for the presenters, facilitators, and participants.