When the school year was interrupted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario classrooms quickly went online.
But for District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) high school students participating in service-learning projects offered through the Goodman School of Business at Brock University, physical distancing restrictions weren’t going to stop them from engaging in additional learning opportunities.
Every semester, business classes from the DSBN participate in projects that partner high school students with local companies looking for change in their business. Students work with their peers to apply in-class teachings and create a viable business plan, which they present to the community partners at the end of the course.
Earlier this year, Grade 12 students from a sports and entertainment marketing class at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in St. Catharines partnered with VR Wonderland, a virtual reality gaming centre, to create a marketing plan that would help the business cater to a new demographic at their new location in the Pen Centre mall in St. Catharines.
When courses moved online to adhere to public health regulations for COVID-19, hands-on projects like service learning seemed impossible to run. Students were given the opportunity to stop their projects and work on assignments that were more conductive to an online environment, but many were eager to see their projects continue to the very end.
“The self-motivation they displayed really showed they were enjoying the projects and wanted to continue, which was very moving for me as an educator,” said DSBN business teacher David Vandermolen.
Although students couldn’t meet in person to collaborate for the project, many aspects of the project were transitioned online, including group discussions, mentoring with Goodman’s Experiential Education staff and the final competition-style presentation, which normally takes place live in front a panel of judges consisting of Goodman staff and the community partner.
Since they couldn’t present their findings in person, six student groups recorded their pitches online and created video presentations last month for the community partner to view and choose a winner.
Reno Zheng, owner of VR Wonderland, said the presentations exceeded his expectations.
“It was clear the students had put a lot of effort and time into this project, which is particularly remarkable, given the current COVID-19 pandemic situation,” he said. “I loved their ideas and will incorporate some of them into my business. I truly believe these projects benefit everyone involved.”
Ewan Chapman, who won the pitch competition with his partner Kayden Mitchell, said his experience with service-learning projects makes learning more valuable.
“It’s a great way to get a more unique case-based learning experience and encompass what we’ve learned at the end of the year,” he said.