Educational Programming: 2020 Impact Report
While the DLC’s closure to the public in March of 2020 presented unique challenges to the entire staff, nowhere was the contrast to normal operations felt more dramatically than in the Education Department. In a typical year, the Education Department hosts more than 35,000 visitors for tours and generates approximately 20% of the Lemur Center’s annual revenue through onsite tours, camps, and merchandise sales.
In addition to providing critical funding for lemur care, staffing, and conservation initiatives, onsite educational programs have historically provided the primary interface for the DLC to carry out a significant component of its mission: educating people on the importance of lemurs and the value of conservation, biodiversity, and scientific discovery.
Our closure generated a cascade of challenges, but also created room for innovation and inventiveness. Our amazing education team had spent every previous spring and summer hitting the tour path running—greeting and educating the vast majority of our annual visitors during the warmer months of the year. Instead, 2020 brought new pressures, opportunities, and learning experiences that none could have predicted.
The education technicians traded in tour guide t-shirts for animal care scrubs and joined the husbandry staff’s rotating teams, spending days onsite hosing, chopping, scrubbing, hauling, and cleaning. Due to the new restrictions, the DLC’s much loved and hard-working technician assistant volunteers were no longer allowed onsite to help with many of these duties, and the education team provided critical support to our animal care staff.
The return of some volunteers later allowed the education staff to shift away from animal care but to continue to find ways to collaborate across departments. We became the chameleons of the DLC, providing critical support to communications projects like the feature-length Me and You and Zoboomafoo film created by the DLC’s communications department, filling in as needed with administrative roles behind the scenes for the gala auction, and even overseeing volunteers when the DLC’s volunteer manager was on temporary leave.
Going Global (and Virtual)
Once it became clear that the DLC would not be reopening for tours any time soon, the education team worked quickly to conceptualize, script, film, and edit a 75-minute virtual tour of the DLC—while also continuing to participate in the animal care team rotations. Our expanding suite of virtual programming now includes eight different options, ranging from reinventions of our onsite offerings to innovative new creations—allowing lemur lovers the world over to be inspired by the remarkable residents of the DLC.
As a result of becoming forcibly disconnected from our in-person onsite visitors, we have forged new and deeper connections with an international audience. Building on the success of our Earth Day 2020 virtual celebrations, we provided weekly free lemur science lessons through a new virtual partnership, reaching over 11,000 students of all ages in 32 states of the USA, as well as Canada, India, Brazil, Mexico, and the United Kingdom!
Our Lemur Landing gift shop was forced to close, but through a new collaboration with Duke University Stores, we were able to offer online merchandise sales with international shipping for a large selection of items that had been previously been available only onsite in the DLC gift shop. Additional items were offered via contact-free curbside pick-up.
The new Learning Lemurs Education Subscription was launched, which has been a particularly fitting outlet for our pent-up educator energy during these months without visitors. Monthly emails to subscribers contain fun updates about DLC residents, educational articles on a wide range of topics, engaging “enrichment for humans,” and more! Want to sample the subscription? Check out the full newsletter from our launch in August!
The way our community has used our virtual programming to connect has sometimes surprised us: families have used an Ask an Expert session as a way to host a global reunion, and friends have selected a favorite lemur species and sent one another Virtual Painting Packages from hundreds of miles away.
As we begin 2021, we are looking forward to returning our focus to the educational mission of the DLC. In collaboration with the newly formed DLC Diversity Committee, we are launching new outreach initiatives that will build connections with underserved student groups in our local community. We are making methodical, sustainable steps toward launching these new programs, ensuring that we are able to build a solid foundation into the next phase of education here at the DLC. We have long desired to find a new balance between the education department’s role as a valuable revenue source for the DLC and our responsibility to provide educational resources and value to our local community.
In many ways, we were primed for this opportunity to devote our energy toward community outreach initiatives, having spent many meetings discussing our dreams for new outreach programs if the time and funding could be found. Mere weeks before our closure in 2020, we had hosted the entire fourth grade of nearby Forest View Elementary on a free field trip. The generosity of a DLC donor allowed us to cover not only the tour fees, but also the cost of the buses, and this has inspired us to create a new program to enlist donations to provide assistance for tour expenses for even more student groups in the Triangle, NC area. To continue that effort as we transitioned to virtual programming, we immediately offered the full 75-minute virtual tour as a free resource to all Durham Public Schools educators, and we have since expanded that free access to all public-school educators around the world.
The Gift of Time
Though the sudden closure of the tour program presented incredible financial challenges to the DLC, there was also an invaluable resource gain: time. There was time to connect directly with the work of other departments, to reflect on our outreach dreams, to conceive new ideas, and to build the foundations needed to implement new programs. We have even had the time to begin detailed planning for new education and outreach spaces as part of the DLC’s master plan, and we are excited to announce our brand-new virtual camp offerings in early 2021! While many programs are still in the works, we hope you can share in our immeasurable excitement and keep an eye out for updates on our upcoming initiatives and ways to support them.