Explore the wild and wondrous world of nature in many glorious and creative hands-on ways with help from the fine folks at The Fluvarium
Bob Piercey knows his stuff. When it comes to toads and trout and the life cycle of salmon, he’s your go-to. But no more he should be. As the Educational Manager at The Fluvarium, Piercey’s been at this nature business for close-on 28 years this fall.
His passion for his position shows. “The building opened in 1990. Princess Anne did the official ceremony on a visit on July 2, 1991,” he began.
Like many educational centres, COVID curtailed things for a while.
All sources of revenue generation ceased when schools shutdown and programming stopped, but when they finally reopened their doors it was with reinvention in mind.
‘A new plan’
Piercey and his educational sidekick Tracy Thomas prepared for summer visitors with COVID restrictions in mind, paying attention to foot-traffic flow and hand sanitizing stations. But the bigger concern was the loss of the school programs. How would that work, they wondered.
“We typically see anywhere from 10 to 12,000 school kids a year. We knew there would be no field trips, and rightfully so. Then we thought, well, maybe we can go out to the schools, but that would be restricted as well. So we had to come up with a new plan.”
The solution was a virtual school program suitable for kids of all ages.
“We like to look at specific curriculum outcomes for classes at the different levels. We looked at what we’ve done in the past and with government help, we brought in some equipment and we filmed a bunch of our programs and we put them on a server site where teachers were able to access them with a code. These virtual programs, because of what has been happening in the schools due to the pandemic, have gone over really well,” he shared.
From October until the middle of December, 4,500 kids had taken part. And the best part? Going viral meant they reached so many who would normally not be able to partake in the centre’s offerings.
“The really good thing about this was when we normally do a program here in the city, we see kids from the city, we see kids from maybe CBS or maybe from down the shore, but that’s about it. With this program, we had teachers and students taking part from all over Newfoundland. We did something called Google Meet, where we’d take an iPad and after the kids did the program Tracy and I or one of us would sit down and we’d connect with the kids via the Internet,” Piercey shared.
“We could see the entire class in front of us and they would see us and they’d raise their hand and ask questions and we could even pick up the iPad and show a child in say Goose Bay, who had never been here, around the building as they were asking questions. We took out a toad, as I did with your nephew, and showed them around that way,” he added.
Times have been strange, he said, so having offerings available to an even broader audience has been a surprising up-side.
Continuing to educate
“As bad as the pandemic has been the fact that we’ve been able to offer this access right across the province has been great. You can still come in. Young people can still visit. But to be able to continue educating the young people about nature has been a blessing.”
Piercey gets a little emotional when talking about what he sees as the value-add of a facility like The Fluvarium.
“We live in a world that’s becoming more and more virtual, more and more electronic. I know. I have kids and they live on their phone. They live with their computers and their iPads. And those things are great. But kids don’t make the same connection to the outdoors that many of us had when we were kids.
“When I came home from school I tossed my books on the porch, yelled out to my mother, ‘I’m gone,’ and I didn’t come home until she yelled out across the field for me to come home for supper. My brothers and sisters? Same way. But young people today don’t have that same connection to the outdoors and I think places like this help them make that connection.”
The real world
The reasoning is complex, though quite simple, he shared.
“That connection is important not only physically, but also psychologically. We need to make that connection with the earth and the world around us otherwise we become too self-centered. You can watch all the reality TV you want, but it’s not the real world. What we’re looking at through the tank window here? That’s the real world.”