On Christmas Day 2019, the St. Louis Aquarium opened its doors as a gift to the Gateway City. One million people were expected to visit the vibrant new space housing 13,000-plus animals in 2020.
And then everything stopped.
Families may not be able to see the marine life in-person due to COVID-19. But, thanks to Diane Bauhof, aquatic learning continues.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘You’re at home. Your team is at home. The aquarium is closed. How can you serve your mission?’” said Bauhof, Executive Director of the St. Louis Aquarium Foundation.
That mission includes access and education. And these days, fulfilling that mission involves an especially creative approach.
The aquarium is now hosting Facebook Live shows twice a week to help bring habitats to video life and onto screens not only in St. Louis but also worldwide. Viewers can experience a virtual breakfast with the otters, learn about SCUBA diving, discover how aquatic habitats are cleaned and more. The Aquarium Foundation is creating interactive, themed educational activities kids and parents can pair with each Facebook Live show. (These are accessed from their website with a copy of the video.) They are also conducting three weekly “Quaranstream” sessions showing a live look at what’s happening inside select exhibits.
“The Facebook Live shows allow us to present field trip experiences in a different way,” said Bauhof. “We can still share our message of conservation and water stewardship with thousands of families, but from the safety of their homes.”
Bauhof was driven to reach even more students. Especially younger children without access to online resources.
“It’s easy to take having technology for granted,” said Bauhof, the mother of a 10-year-old daughter who’s tackling school assignments online. “I thought it was especially important to explore ways we could serve students who don’t have computers.”
Inspiration occurred with a nine-page printed packet for pre-kindergartners to second grade students. The activity packets, filled with word searches, art projects and more, would allow children to learn about the aquarium while offering a reminder that people care about their well-being during social distancing.
Bauhof knew there would be an expense to print the packets. She reached out to Mike Hart to request Regions Bank’s support to pay for 2,000 packets for low-to-moderate-income students. Bauhof had worked with the Regions team in her previous role with the Saint Louis Zoo.
The aquarium is very impressive, so finding a way to share all of its wonders with St. Louis children during these challenging times was an easy decision.
Mike Hart, Greater St. Louis Market Executive for Regions
“The aquarium is very impressive, so finding a way to share all of its wonders with St. Louis children during these challenging times was an easy decision,” said Mike Hart, Greater St. Louis Market Executive for Regions. “Diane’s passion to create a positive impact for students – combined with our connectivity with the Jennings and University City School Districts – offered a creative solution and the perfect fit.”
With funding support confirmed, the next task was to tackle the logistical side of things.
“‘What’s the best way to get packets to the students that truly need them?’ was the question I asked,” said Bauhof.
Nancy Barnes-Ault from Regions had the answer.
By leveraging an existing relationship Regions has with KidSmart, a nonprofit dedicated to providing free access to school supplies, a plan was put into place. Educational kits would be provided to families when they pick up family food boxes at two school districts the bank has supported through various initiatives – Jennings and University City. It’s nourishment for the body – and for the mind.
“The need to keep young minds engaged is greater than ever right now,” said Allison Dudash, Director of In-Kind Partnerships and Procurement with KidSmart. “Collaborations are especially important during these challenging times. I was grateful to Nancy for contacting us.”
Barnes-Ault reached out to bring in additional community partners, including Junior Achievement of Greater St. Louis, the Center of the Creative Arts and bank financial education resource EVERFI. Junior Achievement is providing free “My Journey” workbooks filled with financial education activities for pre-kindergarten through fifth graders. EVERFI is offering Jennings and University City elementary, middle and high school students free online access to all of its financial literacy, STEM and health and wellness programs.
“The community partnerships we’ve built allowed us to quickly bring the schools and nonprofits together,” said Barnes-Ault, Community Relations for Regions in Missouri. “Everyone was eager to lend their support. It’s been very gratifying to see this project come together.”
Through this added support, more than 4,000 activity packets will be shared with young learners, with even thousands more gaining access thanks to the online resources.
“We may be distantly apart but we can still come together,” said Dudash. “This project is a way we can show students that the community is behind them, lifting them up and helping them to keep learning.”
For Bauhof, sharing the activity kits with young minds offers a valuable benefit beyond education.
“I think the coronavirus is impacting children more than we realize at times,” she said. “If there’s anything we can do to take their minds off of what’s happening for even just a little while, that’s a good thing.”
Bauhof also notes the work of the community partners demonstrates that everyone can do something to make a difference during these unsettling times.
“There are so many community organizations stepping up right now,” she said. “I know this won’t save the world. But if we can help students and help parents right now through education, we’re doing our part.”
Like the aquarium itself, it’s sure to be a gift that keeps giving.
Sharks, Sting Rays and Sloths, Oh My!
Sea How “H2O Friends” Brings the St. Louis Aquarium to Life for Gateway City Students
The St. Louis Aquarium Foundation’s activity packets are an expansion of the nonprofit’s “H2O Friends” (Help to our Friends) program. The goal of H2O Friends is to provide a free aquarium field trip to 20,000 Gateway City students who might not otherwise be able to visit. The H2O Friends program is funded by donor support.
You can download the free nine-page activity packet for young learners here.
And be sure to check out the St. Louis Aquarium’s “Quaranstream” sessions here.