Education and school-life look different this year, but students can still enjoy a fun and interactive learning experience with the Orange County Library System (OCLS). OCLS virtual field trips are designed in alignment with the Florida State Department of Education’s learning standards and activities are tailored to the appropriate grade level. Library programming can have a lifelong positive impact on students. Public libraries offer innovative and engaging youth programming. When school and public libraries take collaborative ventures, the needs of more students will be met.

In the 2019-2020 school year, the Youth Services department hosted 15 in-person field trips with 670 students in attendance. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted our operations prompting the decision to come up with an immediate solution. In the 2020-2021 school year, we relaunched our program virtually and booked 47 field trips with a projected audience of 3,217 students, quadrupling participation numbers.

OCLS has reached new audiences, including charter, private and K-8 schools. The previous year, in-person field trips had five Title I schools participate, that number has tripled, as 15 Title I schools have booked virtual field trips this year. Title I schools consist of economically disadvantaged children from low-income families that make up at least 40 percent of the school’s enrollment. Title I schools receive federal funds to assist in meeting student’s educational goals. Adapting to virtual programming made it possible to reach a wider range of students with the convenience of participating without having to commute to the library, get permission slips, secure chaperones, or pay for bus transportation.

Reading, literacy, and library resources are promoted in our virtual field trips through storytime, mini-lesson, games, and a pioneer-themed craft. Virtual field trips are designed to help develop literacy skills and are created in alignment with the Florida State Department of Education’s learning standards and are tailored to the appropriate grade level. Currently, OCLS is serving kindergarten and first-grade students in Orange County and plans to expand the curriculum to include another grade level this coming school year.

Kindergarten and first-grade field trips begin with a game, where the field trip coordinator engages the entire classroom by asking students if they know exactly how much library cards costs. The next question asks children how many books are in the library’s collection. The games continue as the host reveals what library resources are included with their card. For kindergarten field trips this discussion segues into defining the lesson objective, the difference between needs and wants. The field trip host holds up picture cards and visual aids, then asks children to respond by hugging themselves for their “needs” and grabbing the air for their “wants”. Field trip hosts cover topics of food, clothing, shelter, and sleep and relate them to everyday life. The field trip host transforms themselves into a pioneer, complete with an apron and bonnet (the students love this). The virtual lesson continues with a visual Venn diagram covering the lesson, a storytime, song, and craft. The first-grade field trip focuses on comparing pioneer life long-ago compared to life now. The success of this program is a result of numerous outreach efforts.

The Youth Services Department redesigned an existing field trip brochure. Furthermore, the Youth Outreach Coordinator provided a brochure and template to the library's team of 128 school liaisons, who then relayed the information to Orange County principals and media specialists. Next, OCLS IT: Design and Development team collaborated with youth services to develop an online request form to book a virtual field trip. Lastly, there were two mass e-mails that delivered the field trip brochure to 178 principals. The brochure acts as a resource guide that outlines the virtual field trip program options.

The first mass mailer went out in October of 2020, reaching 178 principals and the second mass e-mail was delivered in February 2021, reaching 178 principals and 1,350 kindergarten and first-grade teachers. The entirety of this program was re-imagined virtually, staff reinvented a storage room into a live filming studio for field trips. The room now has a large whiteboard, hula hoops used to create a Venn diagram, and equipment like monitors, ring lights, keyboards, and wireless headphones.

Although there have been many modifications such as rewriting the lesson, recreating the craft, and adapting to new methods of reaching Orange County Public Schools, this program has been incredibly successful. There are three members on the OCLS field trip committee, but demands have increased. Therefore, additional support includes now having the virtual intern and adult volunteers help create supplies for field trips. The supplies for kindergarten include creating a loom and cutting paper into strips. The loom consists of four Popsicle sticks glued together and five rubber bands placed around the Popsicle stick frame. The sheets of paper are pre-cut in horizontal strips. Every child receives a Popsicle stick loom and ten sheets of horizontal paper.

The first-grade field trip supplies include a pencil, foam cups with holes, and pompoms attached to a string, to make the game cup-in-ball. Every child receives a foam cup with a pre-cut hole at the bottom and a string with a pompom attached. All supplies are packed and mailed to schools before the scheduled event at no cost to the school. The replication of this program is possible and can be modified to fit different library staff, varying classroom sizes, and settings. The promotional materials such as the resource guide and webpage can always be updated. School life may look different this year, but students can still enjoy a fun and interactive learning experience with Orange County Library System.

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