The 2020-2021 school year is bound to go down in history as one of the most challenging years for students, parents, and educators alike. With COVID-19 school closings, restrictions, and the pivot to online learning that followed, Springboard to Learning faced one of its greatest challenges: how to continue providing meaningful, memorable learning experiences, despite being unable to enter classrooms.
The Springboard staff and Teaching Artists proved up to the challenge. Using critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills – those that form the basis of Springboard’s mission – they engaged new partners, developed innovative ways to reach students, and embraced the changes necessary to navigate a shifting educational landscape.
Take a look into this remarkable year, and learn how we found success in the challenges.
As COVID-19 forced closures across the St. Louis metro area, Springboard realized that in order to provide arts-integrated education to students in the new school year, they’d have to get creative. Tapping into their national affiliate network, Young Audiences Arts for Learning, Springboard forged a partnership with Young Audiences of Maryland. The Teaching Artists in Baltimore created a method of delivering educational arts activities to the home in the form of Arts & Learning Snacks. These hands-on art kits did not require access to technology, so students on both sides of the digital divide could participate.
Springboard embraced the Arts & Learning Snacks project, finding two more partners in Operation Food Search and the St. Louis County Library. Together, they distributed kits at family meal sites, providing food for both the body and the mind to those who needed it most. By July’s end, nearly 5,500 children received Arts & Learning Snacks, with more on the way.
With the school year fast approaching and COVID-19 restrictions still in place, Springboard knew there was little chance of Teaching Artists physically entering classrooms. With the help of TA Thomasina Clarke and her indispensable expertise in filming and editing, the Springboard to Virtual Learning catalog was born. Teaching Artists began recording their programs for virtual viewing and learning the ins and outs of Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms they might use to engage students in a live learning experience. In total, 87% of the Teaching Artists on the roster committed to providing their programs in a virtual format.
With the demand for Arts & Learning Snacks on the rise, Springboard also began engaging volunteers to help with assembly. A hardworking, passionate cohort of board directors, Teaching Artists, family members, and friends of the organization donated their Saturdays to Springboard, donning their masks and gloves to pack Snacks for St. Louis children. Through the Arts & Learning Snacks initiative alone, Springboard engaged over 60 new volunteers.
With school officially in session and a virtual catalog ready for implementation, Springboard went back to work! Though the classrooms looked different, students and teachers still needed arts programming, and Springboard was ready to meet the need. Teaching Artists visited virtual classrooms to perform and instruct, and testimonials from teachers confirmed that Springboard programming helped boost engagement during distance learning, promoted community for classes that couldn’t meet in person, and brought energy, excitement, and fun into their school day!
Schools weren’t the only places to close their doors during COVID-19. Many venues placed restrictions on indoor gatherings, which meant Springboard was unable to host its annual gala, Lip Sync Battle – St. Louis. Without the option of hosting an in-person event, the staff switched gears and launched #STL4STL.
This campaign, which represented Springboard’s commitment to the children of St. Louis, as well as the community’s commitment to ensuring all students have access to transformative learning experiences, consisted of major gifts, a raffle, and crowdfunding campaign in which staff, board directors, and Teaching Artists shared personal stories of how an arts education impacted their lives. In an overwhelming show of generosity and support, Springboard was able to raise over $70,000.
Ever since Springboard became the Greater St. Louis affiliate of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts in 2017, the early childhood professional development residencies have been in high demand. No matter if schools were meeting virtually, in a hybrid format, or transitioning back to in-person learning, the Springboard Wolf Trap Master Teaching Artists were prepared to deliver high-quality programming.
The preparation paid off. Springboard hosted 12 Wolf Trap residencies across the St. Louis region in the month of November alone, more than in the organization’s entire first year of Wolf Trap. Though the landscape changed, the desire for innovative and immersive arts programming endured.
Near the close of the first semester, Springboard engaged a special kind of volunteer, creating an opportunity for students to help other students. At Northview High School in the Special School District of St. Louis County, students and staff volunteered to assemble 925 Arts & Learning Snacks. Life/work transition skills are an important part of the Northview curriculum, and this opportunity allowed students to practice important skills necessary for the successful transition from school to the workforce.
The Springboard staff also had a little fun before the winter break, recording a holiday greeting video that put a timely twist on a famous Christmas story. ‘Twas the Night Before COVID remains, to date, the most-watched video on Springboard’s YouTube channel.
As the second semester began, Springboard was ready once more with its comprehensive catalog of virtual programming. Dedicated to offering online learning options through COVID and beyond, Springboard engaged virtual Teaching Artists from across the United States, for the first time never. North Carolinians David Novak, Erin Badger-Coffey, and Sarah Council delivered Wolf Trap residencies from over 800 miles away, and Seth Reichgott brought his mythology-based programming to us from Philadelphia. New local Teaching Artists joined Springboard, including St. Louisans, Andrea Cox, Melissa Trepa, and Elizabeth Krasnoff Holzer, adding more mindfulness, poetry, and playwriting options to the roster.
By this point in the school year, Springboard had distributed nearly 7,500 Arts & Learning Snacks throughout St. Louis. On Valentine’s Day, the community helped Springboard continue sharing the love of learning with students through the Show Some Love campaign. Over the course of a week, generous donors contributed over $3,000 towards Arts & Learning Snacks.
Four months later, 13,114 students had received Arts & Learning Snacks, thanks in no small part to the donors who supported the initiative from its inception, as well as the many volunteers who made it possible!
Spring came in like a lion at Springboard with the creation of an all-new Arts & Learning Snack – or rather, two Snacks in one! The Rain Saver Snack Pack, designed by teaching artist Cara Murphy-Smith, focused on water conservation and included materials and instructions for constructing a rain chain, rain barrel, and backyard rainfall model, so students could learn the best ways to collect and use rainwater. Sponsored by the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, 600 Rain Saver Snack Packs shipped out to the Jennings School District, and became the seventh Snack on the menu. As of June 30, Springboard has distributed a total of 3,600 Rain Saver Snack Packs.
The 25th Anniversary of Springboard’s longest-running program was always going to be special. But this year, the culmination of the WiseWrite Signature Program reached more viewers than ever. The annual WiseWrite Festival of One-Act plays was held virtually on April 23rd, with local professional actors performing a selection of student scripts written during the 26-week residency. Teaching Artists Glynis Brooks, Thomasina Clarke, Dan Kelly, and Tara O’Nay gave the 5th graders at Mason Elementary and Shaw VPA an experience they’ll never forget, while viewers from across the country tuned in to watch short plays about a gift shop teddy bear longing to be adopted, a circus elephant who wants to be a clown, and a wise old tree who fends off demolition with the help of some forest friends.
The end of an unprecedented school year was approaching, but Springboard had its sights set on a new opportunity – the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market. As market shoppers browsed the stalls of produce, handmade goods, and tasty treats, they could also meet members of the Springboard staff, who set up shop to sell Arts & Learning Snacks and share the organization’s mission with a new audience.
In another unprecedented achievement, generous donors helped Springboard raise over $3,000 on Give STL Day, the annual day of giving for the St. Louis region. This surpassed the previous year, and that of other years, as well.
In June, Springboard was thrilled to welcome four new faces to the Board of Directors: Carolyn Bryant, Pablo Flinn, Tabitha Porter, and Shannon Tuggle. And though the regular school year had ended, Springboard’s biggest project was just beginning. St. Louis Public Schools were back in classrooms for their Summer Learning sessions, and Springboard was there with them. On June 11th, Springboard and SLPS kicked off Summer Learning with the Arts Integration Virtual Field Trip, where Teaching Artists Kunama Mtendaji, Alicia Gbaho, and Sherry Norfolk led more than 25 different elementary and middle schools through a program filled with music, dance, storytelling, and finger-puppetry!
By Summer Learning’s conclusion on July 9th, Teaching Artists had delivered 188 programs through 465 unique classroom sessions, as well as 1,000 Arts & Learning Snacks, ensuring that all students had an arts experience as part of their curriculum. June was the single busiest month for Springboard on record – and there’s no stopping us now!
As we move into a new school year and classrooms re-open their doors to in-person learning, we look forward to another successful year of delivering meaningful, memorable learning experiences, envisioning a future where all students are passionate, engaged learners who experience success.