Education Dept Returns With Evening & Online Offerings

Tye Chandler :
Posted June 25, 2020

In the first step of an eventual return to full strength, the Fossil Rim Education Department is back in business with a couple of options as summertime gets rolling.

Fossil Rim supporters may recall that the education staff had created a plethora of new content earlier this year. In March, the department was about to launch all-new programming under a conceptual umbrella called “Environmental Education With A Texas T.W.A.N.G.” Unfortunately, Fossil Rim closed later that month due to the rise of COVID-19 and all of the new offerings were shelved.

What guests may remember as “Discovery After Dark” is now called “Twilight T.W.A.N.G.” and it has some new features. The event is part of a summer return by the Fossil Rim Education Department.

“Obviously the pandemic has caused major changes across the world, but just from the perspective of our education department, it was really unfortunate to see the timing play out the way it did,” said Reserved Programs Supervisor Andrew Bullard. “We were ready to go with so much new content to offer. We’d ordered supplies and had so many people booked – the excitement level was high.

“Then, the pandemic changed everything and we had to make the difficult decision to cancel all of our programs for the safety of our staff and guests. That programming was designed for onsite groups and we really wanted to have people come out to experience Fossil Rim.”

With it being too soon to bring back all that they have created, the department had to make some adjustments for the summer.

“We’ve been trying to think of creative ways to connect people with Fossil Rim while also maintaining social distancing,” Bullard said. “We now have some new programs in the spirit of what we were going to roll out in the spring, but adjusted for the current situation while maintaining similar content.”

Twilight T.W.A.N.G.

Fossil Rim Education Department supporters may recall from the spring that T.W.A.N.G. means “teaching what affects nature globally.” This event is in many ways similar to the department’s hugely popular Discovery After Dark Program And Tour, which have been monthly events from April-October in recent years.

“Twilight T.W.A.N.G. is basically our Discovery After Dark (DAD) remastered,” Bullard said. “The DAD was one of our most popular programs and one I really enjoyed. This version really highlights everything Fossil Rim has to offer, plus it gives us the opportunity to maintain social distancing. It will just be your family and/or friends with a couple of staff members.

“Maybe you and your children want to get out and enjoy an experience in nature together. We will focus more on crepuscular (active during twilight) animals and have added a campfire and s’mores portion. We’ll even talk about the ‘science of the s’more’ and tell some Fossil Rim-related stories, so it’s another element of the family bonding we want the event to provide.

“We’ll still have the classroom portion to start off, plus the evening drive through the park, as well as the nature hike. I think guests will find that the different elements of the experience flow very well.”

Bullard said the hiking portion will be optional for each group. A certain trail could be selected based on what the group wants, or the hike could be modified to become more of a walk.

“Expect the same Discovery After Dark event you know and love, but it will be more polished and even better,” he said. “The demand for this program format will always be there. Considering the Discovery After Dark was a once-a-month event, this is a way to open it up to a lot more people, while still being safe (12-person max, at least one adult, all from the same group).

“We will be limited on how many we can do per week, so if you want a date reserved, I’d recommend trying to book it online sooner rather than later. Now that we have officially entered summer, this is one of the best ways to beat the heat and enjoy Fossil Rim.”

T.W.A.N.G. [FR]om Home

For children and families that cannot visit Fossil Rim in person during the near future for whatever reason, this program is their ticket to the facility. It is a three-part, themed series that includes one hour of virtual educational programming per week along with T.W.A.N.G. Home Edition Challenges.

People are going to have the opportunity to get a special Fossil Rim experience without even traveling to the facility thanks to the creation of the T.W.A.N.G. [FR]om Home program.
“This is a way for us to bring the programs we’ve worked on to people who can’t come out here at this time,” Bullard said. “A lot of people are doing distance learning now, and we want to bring Fossil Rim into your home the best way we can.”

There will be some interesting special guests appearing along the way – obviously animals, but humans, as well.

“The goal is to explore a theme for three weeks,” Bullard said. “We’ll meet once a week, and in between we will have a project or assignment for the participants to do and think about in a fun at-home challenge. We’ll meet for 60-90 minutes, depending on what we’re doing.

“We’ll be teaching, plus go some places you may not be able to see on the normal drive through the park. Our vet staff is excited to help us out. The groups will be able to ask questions to the people who take care of our animals to learn as much as possible.”

There are two sessions – one for elementary school and one for middle school and high school students. The elementary sessions will be on three mornings, while the other sessions will be on three different mornings. Up to 10 households will be allowed to partake in each session, and each household will need to include at least one adult.

“While we have two sessions based on the majority age in the group, we would love for parents and grandparents to participate, as well,” Bullard said. “Part of the goal is to build a community of groups who are interested in this sort of education through Zoom and a private Facebook group. You’ll be able to post your projects and talk to other like-minded people who want to learn more about Fossil Rim and help the planet.

The theme for the rollout of T.W.A.N.G. [FR]om Home is called “Ahead Of The Curve.”

“Our first theme will be Ahead Of The Curve, and it is designed specifically for online audiences,” Bullard said. “It’s about how Fossil Rim staff keeps our animals safe: quarantine, animal health, herd immunity, and how we keep our staff safe from any virus – not just COVID-19. This is one of many different themes that we can do. We are going to foster learning through whatever means we have available.”

The education staff wants to craft the teaching in a way that best suits the level of each group, which is why the sessions are split between elementary and older students.

To register for T.W.A.N.G. [FR]om Home or Twilight T.W.A.N.G., or to learn more details about either, go to https://fossilrim.org/education/. For other questions, email education@fossilrim.org.

Looking Forward

For people familiar with the education staff prior to Fossil Rim’s closure, it currently includes Director of Education Jennifer Arledge, Bullard, and Visitor Programs Supervisor Will Baker.

“Our education staff has really missed having people out here,” Bullard said. “Even though that remains a work in progress, we’ve maintained the creative mindset we had for the content we were about to debut in the spring. These new offerings are continuations of what we’ve already created, and education is all about adapting for your audience.”

The staff has a lot of programming ready to roll for when the department hosts public groups again, but they are also constantly working on new content.

“Looking long term, we are developing a reopening plan for the department where we offer those onsite programs we were about to debut in March,” Bullard said. “We are already working on the next activities we will offer. We will make an announcement each time we offer something new and keep building the options.

Looking ahead, when it is possible, the education department will bring back the awesome programming they were originally set to debut earlier this year.

“We will continue to use Facebook Live videos at times to get more people engaged. Expect the online education to be around for a while, and eventually we’ll get back to immersive, overnight programs.

“This is a first step on our way back as a department. The pandemic has presented a unique challenge for everyone at zoological institutions across the nation, but it’s nothing we won’t find a way to overcome at Fossil Rim to continue educating your family and friends.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 

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