What’s vPRD? Piedmont Rec does a quick pivot to virtual offerings

PIEDMONT — Virtually overnight, in every sense, the Piedmont Recreation Department went from a heavily hands-on, social operation to one that is entirely online.

This, of course, was the result of the ongoing novel coronavirus emergency, and the accompanying shelter-in-place orders that have closed many businesses, completely altered operations for many more and ended social gatherings, even small ones, for the time being.

What for Piedmont Rec had been a healthy slate of interactive enrichment classes, sports programs and kids’ activities with 600 to 700 participants has, over a two-week period, morphed into a series of online classes and curated activities. It’s a smaller-scale version of what school districts have had to do to bring “distance learning” into millions of homes nationwide as physical classrooms have shuttered.

It’s been a tough change for everyone involved. “We’re ‘people’ people … but we’ve had to join the new norm,” said Erin Rivera, a Piedmont recreation supervisor.

So after a couple of weeks, “vPRD” (“v” for virtual) is up and running. Its second Saturday morning newsletter lists 21 Spring Session class offerings that start April 27. They vary greatly, from toddlers’ tiddlywinks to virtual sports to trivia to complex topics including “unintentional or intentional exposure to narratives about gender and power in the media landscape, including pornography.”

There also is a separate “Piedmont Virtual Rec Center” with links to a compilation of curated activities, with topics of interest to various age groups, as well as a list of family activities. Here, you can link to everything from virtual tours of museums to dog-friendly activities for the family. 

Chelle Putzer, Piedmont’s recreation director, said the turn from PRD to vPRD was a fast one.

Teams have been working feverishly to sort through the mountain of online courses available on the Internet to find some quality offerings of interest to, and relevant to, Piedmonters, and to then create online classes based on those findings.

“At this point, it’s like we’re putting our toes in the water, seeing what we can do,” Putzer said. So far, she said, the public response has been “great;” six of the seven planned “Virtual Spring Break” classes moved ahead with at least the minimum number of students. Two classes filled completely. 

An especially popular Virtual Spring Break offering, Putzer and Rivera said, was “Drawing with David,” led by David Hopkins, a longtime mainstay at Schoolmates, Piedmont’s long-running city-operated daycare program. Hopkins,who has been with Schoolmates for over three decades,  is leading a new offering, too, “Schoolmates With David,” one of the April 27 classes. Whereas Rivera said some of the online offerings were created in collaboration with contractors, “Drawing with David” was developed completely in-house.

“It was kind of amazing how much we learned in three days,” Rivera said.

Helping the situation, both Putzer and Rivera said, is Piedmont’s small size. It helps keep local pre-school teachers and their young charges as close as they can physically be in these socially distanced times. In some cases, the teachers can leave little packs on front porches with the materials the kids need for their classes.

“The teachers are getting to connect with the kids that way, and it’s nice,” Rivera said.

The learning will continue, Putzer and Rivera said. Some offerings will be popular, others won’t.  They hope a survey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/PRDOnlineClasses) will help guide them as to what Piedmont residents want to see in online offerings, and when during the day they want to see them. It will all be a learning adventure, both in front of the computer screen and behind the online scenes.

“This Spring will be a good indication of whether people are good with what we’re doing, or if they’re sick of it,” Putzer said. 

You can check out the offerings here.

Contact Sam Richards at 925-482-7698 

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