NEWPORT – For Dawn Dextraze, education and outreach specialist for the Sullivan County Conservation District, the past year has been an ongoing experience of adaptation due in large part to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
But despite organizing fewer school trips than in previous years, the county education program has found new approaches to connecting with county residents.
“Education has looked a little different this year,” Dextraze told Sullivan County commissioners on Monday. “Our programs were escalating, but then COVID happened. “
The Sullivan County Conservation District, now in its 75th year of operation, offers a variety of environmental resources and programs aimed at teaching residents about the county’s natural ecosystems and cultivating a sense of stewardship and appreciation of the local landscape.
The educational component of the Sullivan County Conservation District, known as Place-Based Education, teaches students, educators and residents through programs that include field trips, educational workshops, service projects. , school programs and community events.
While New Hampshire public schools refrained from field trips during the 2020-2021 school year, Dextraze said it still offers many outdoor educational programs for private schools and families. home-schooled. Dextraze also made monthly trips to a youth residential facility in Plainfield to teach high school students about natural resources.
“A total of 71 lessons were still held last year, for a total of 1,739 learning hours,” said Dextraze.
Many of those hours came from partnering with SAU 6’s summer learning program, according to Dextraze.
“Claremont Parks and Recreation came to see us and asked if we could do a nature study. [program], which is great because they had never come to see us before to fill one of these positions for them, ”Dextraze told Commissioners.
Dextraze’s summer program for the district ran daily, Monday through Friday, for six weeks, and hosted 80 students in total from Kindergarten to Grade 5, with cohorts of students alternating days of attendance. .
Dextraze also used social media during the shutdown to successfully connect with new audiences, through a series of daily Facebook posts called “Get Outside and Learn”. Every day, Dextraze introduced readers to a new topic, such as a plant or fungi or a mysterious biological or geological event that is in the local ecosystem.
The “Get Outside and Learn” posts attracted around 3,500 people, according to Dextraze.
“I heard a lot of great comments from people saying they really enjoyed it,” Dextraze said. “So I think we connected that way to a whole different audience, an audience that wouldn’t normally know what we’re doing otherwise. “
Another surprisingly effective outreach tool is the Sullivan County Conservation District’s new cider house program, according to Dextraze. The volunteer-run public cider house, located in the Unity County complex, was launched in 2019 but did not operate in 2020 due to the pandemic. The cider house reopened last month for the 2021 apple picking season, starting with the unveiling of the new cider house mural. The mural project was led by Claremont artist Alison Zito, who worked with children over the summer to develop elements of the design. Twenty-five children and adults helped Zito paint the mural.
With the help of volunteers, the Sullivan County Conservation District has squeezed and bottled their own cider to distribute at public events, which is a great way to engage residents on the county’s offerings, according to Dextraze.
At the Claremont Fall Festival on Saturday, the Sullivan County Conservation District handed out 90 pints of cider in just an hour, Dextraze said.
“We used our time very well [at the festival], standing there and talking to people and handing out as many brochures as possible, ”Dextraze said. “So I hope that in that time someone will learn something new about county services and what we do.”
Public cider house usage has increased significantly since 2019. In the first year there were 10 scheduled presses, producing a total of 104 gallons of cider. This season there have been 18 presses so far, producing 208 gallons of cider, and there are still 10 presses scheduled for the next two weeks.
“Everyone has to be interested,” Dextraze said. “We had a Connecticut wedding party to squeeze apples once.”
The Sullivan County Conservation District is also invited to bring the cider press to community events.
“It’s great that our reach caters to all of these different types of people,” said Dextraze.
The Sullivan County Conservation District will also be hosting two educational events as part of its Sustainable Foods from the Forest program. The first event, on oak forestry, will take place on Saturday, October 16, from 10 a.m. to noon. The second event, on the making and use of acorn flour, will take place on Saturday 23 October.
Dextraze said the Sullivan County Conservation District originally wanted to host the event last year, but had to delay it due to restrictions related to the pandemic.
The oak forestry event is free. The cost of the Acorn Flour Making Event is $ 15 for an individual or $ 20 for families.
To learn more about the Sullivan County Conservation District, visit their website at sccdnh.org.