Public television channels are adapting their strategies to support out-of-school learning


As educators struggle to bridge the learning deficits that have arisen during the coronavirus pandemic, public broadcasters are refining their strategies to engage students outside of the classroom.

Eight Ohio PBS stations are launching a collaborative education project that will provide themed activity toolkits, virtual field trips, and interactive community events for elementary school students, starting this fall. The Ohio Department of Education provided $5 million to fund the three-year project.

And starting July 1, WNET in New York will offer a new season of its reformatted Camp TV, a series that aims to address learning losses exacerbated by the pandemic and those that typically occur during summer vacation. Episodes debuting this summer will run over a faster half-hour and include hands-on math, literacy, science, arts, movement and mindfulness lessons for kids ages 5-10. The second season of the series was broadcast by 126 PBS stations in 2021.

Both projects are strategic responses by public broadcasters to help students, parents and educators recover from the setbacks and disruptions to K-12 education that began with school closures. in 2020. A nationwide study by McKinsey & Company found that students were on average five years old. months behind in math and four months behind in reading at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

Additionally, parents are reporting that students’ social and emotional skills and attention spans have suffered during the pandemic, said Jason Dennison, senior director of learning services at Public Media Connect, which includes CET in Cincinnati and ThinkTV. in Dayton, Ohio.

“What we hope to do is give students, with guidance from an after-school facilitator or their parents at home, the opportunity to explore, think and imagine,” Dennison said. . “It’s this creative process that we believe will help students who have weathered this pandemic accelerate their learning and emerge with the skills to be confident and resilient.”

Camp in a box

The Ohio initiative grew out of the educational programming the state’s public television stations developed to support remote learning during the pandemic. When schools closed in 2020, the stations provided a regular broadcast schedule of curriculum-linked PBS shows, learning materials for parents, virtual camps, and STEM and literacy workshops for children and children. their caregivers.

In September 2020, the Superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education contacted Kevin Martin, president of Ideastream Public Media in Cleveland, to invite PBS stations in Ohio to submit a proposal to expand content and support they had provided during the COVID lockdowns.

“One of the things the superintendent said that really impressed me was that learning doesn’t have to happen within the four walls of the school building,” Martin said. “It should happen and be accessible to students outside of school property.”

Martin is president of Educational Television Stations of Ohio, an association that supports lifelong learning through public telecommunications. He recruited Kitty Lensman, president and CEO of Public Media Connect, to coordinate the work of the stations’ education experts, he said.


Public Media Connect stations offered a successful series of virtual camps over the summers of 2020 and 2021 that drew 45,000 attendees, Lensman said. Based on this model, the stations made virtual camps a cornerstone of their proposal for Ohio Learns 360 with a focus on educational and enrichment activities for after-school programs and summer camps.

They created Camp-in-a-Box, a set of toolkits with hands-on activities based on programs from PBS Kids shows such as Wild Kratts and Odd Squad. The 14 toolkits will be distributed among students in kindergarten to grade 2 and grades 3 to 5. For each group, the toolkits provide five days of learning activities, according to Dennison.

Each station will receive 50 toolkits and then train local teachers and extracurricular staff to deliver the program.

The Ohio Learns 360 toolkits and training model respond to what stations have heard from teachers and post-pandemic follow-up providers, according to Dennison.

“They have great intentions to do these camps, but they don’t have the tools,” Lensman said.

Broadcast programming is not part of the project. Students can participate in virtual programs from home by posting videos on their station websites or by participating in activities offered in after-school programs or summer camps.

The project will also produce eight virtual field trips that will feature cultural attractions from across the state. “Through these virtual field trips, we will be able to connect students to experiences at Ohio museums from home, speak live with experts, and engage in learning beyond the classroom. class,” said Dennison, co-lead of the statewide project for Ohio Learns 360.

Another key feature of the initiative is Afterschool 360, a series of 64 weekly webinars delivered by the stations. The sessions, which can be streamed live to children’s homes or in after-school programs, will focus on developing literacy, math, and social and emotional skills.

Another webinar series, titled Parent Power, will provide guidance for parents on how to support their children’s education. Developed by WOSU in Columbus, the webinars will feature expert panels discussing topics suggested by a Family Advisory Council.

The final component of the project is a series of community events that provide activities and resources for elementary students. Each station will hold its own events, which could include a back-to-school program that provides free backpacks and school supplies, or an outdoor event in a park featuring PBS characters and educational activities, said Dennison.

While many community events hosted by PBS stations are geared toward preschoolers, activities developed for Ohio Learns 360 will be geared toward elementary school students. “What we encourage stations to do post-pandemic, as we begin to host in-person events again, is to really engage with students and their families around the topics and issues that PBS is particularly good at. placed,” Dennison said.

Education staff at each of the eight stations work on Ohio Learns 360; Public Media Connect, which leads the initiative, has hired three employees to support and manage the project. “No station could do it alone,” Lensman said. “By working together and each carrying a part of the project, this allows us to do even more and makes us more efficient. Our reach in the state is going to be huge.

camping on tv

WNET has taken a different approach to expanding the educational services it launched during the pandemic. It renews its television series which offers enriching activities during the summer.

When summer camps were canceled in 2020, WNET launched Camp TV in the form of a one-hour program aimed at children aged 5 to 10. The nationally distributed series features Broadway performers who guide children through a series of hands-on activities based on kid-friendly themes.

“It’s really meant to simulate a day camp experience in a child’s home, where they could learn something surprising and new from these amazing artists and teacher educators,” says Sandra Sheppard, director and EP of Kids ‘Media and Education for the WNET group. .

In its first two seasons, Camp TV reached a combined audience of 6.5 million through television broadcast or video streaming through its website. For Season 3, which premieres next month, WNET has condensed the format into half-hour episodes.

Mia Weinberger, left, joins Zachary Noah Piser as a co-adviser for the third season of “Camp TV.”

WNET decided to shorten the programs so that the series would conform to the half-hour format of many PBS Kids shows. The station’s programmers told WNET they would prefer to air 30-minute episodes, Sheppard said. “It added energy – the pace is just a bit faster,” she said. “We just think it will be an interesting length for broadcast, and it might work even better for station schedules.”

WNET produced 10 original episodes for Camp TVof the new season and repackaged 10 shows from previous seasons into half-hours. The new episodes include a segment called “Mindful Me”, which teaches children how to manage their emotions in a positive way.

The producers also introduce segments provided by PBS stations across the country. For example, viewers will conduct hands-on science experiments with host Mister C in segments of ThinkTV Full steam ahead series and join “Yoga with Miss B” in segments produced by PBS North Carolina.

“What stations have told us is that this is a great way for them to work with their local nonprofit partners to engage them in a project that supports summer learning and supports literacy” , Sheppard said.

Camp TV is the second WNET children’s series created to support remote learning. His first show Let’s learn, launched at the start of the pandemic and available to be broadcast by other stations. It features teachers presenting classroom lessons from their homes to children aged 3 to 8.

The New York City Department of Education contacted WNET to create a program for teachers to connect with students learning at home. With 140 episodes already distributed to PBS stations, WNET plans to continue producing the show in 2022, subject to funding.

“The parents really applauded us for doing this show,” Sheppard said. “There are a lot of children who are unfortunately not at school level, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem. … We are fully committed to continuing these educational media efforts to support children and families.


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