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Vroom and Zoom: the LDP in a time of COVID

MCC adapts the Leadership Training Program to mitigate COVID risks

Starting March 8th, MCC will be firing up chainsaws and tuning into Zoom meetings and Google Classrooms as we kick-off the awesome MCC Leadership Development Program (LDP). For 2021, it’ll be much like past years – but also different as we adapt our training to mitigate for the ongoing risks of COVID.

Next week, nearly one hundred excited young adults AmeriCorps members will descend upon Bozeman, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula as we prepare a new contingent of leaders for our young adult and youth programs. For 2021, the LDP is condensed to 10 weeks, instead of 14. The later start date helps us minimize indoors time and get our leaders outdoors as much as possible for hands-on training. The condensed schedule for the LDP requires that we have our program even more dialed than usual. Greater Yellowstone Field Coordinator (FC) Dani Woods explains, “We really have to rely on our lesson preparation skills as well as our delivery this year so we don't miss anything. It'll be a jam packed few weeks where we won't have time to go back and hit on the things we may have missed.” In preparation, regions have been tailoring their agendas, streamlining lesson plans ahead of time, determining what should be taught in the field, and arranging Google Classrooms. Cole Sommers, FC in Central Divide, says, “our biggest goal is to have our staff be set and prepared beforehand to have everyone present with the Leaders as much as possible during LDP.”

Like the LDP of years past, emerging leaders will receive training in leadership and interpersonal skills, first aid, Leave No Trace, team building, civic engagement, and field-skills. Shannon Stober will be teaching facilitative leadership as she has in years past, but it will be delivered via two live Zoom sessions and a series of pre-recorded modules delivered by regional staff. Some lessons will be taught in small groups in spaces that can accommodate social distancing, while other topics will be delivered virtually to all crew leaders across the state. 

Leaders will then spend the last six weeks of LDP in the field on technical training and projects. Will Merritt, FC for Western Wildlands explains, “With the condensed LDP and minimized time indoors, we are learning to adapt many of the lessons for implementation while in the field. Practice in the field will solidify the foundation of skills that we want our Leaders to come out of the LDP with. This is what I am most excited about.”

The modified structure of LDP does not deter our staff’s hope to deliver the best experience for our participants as possible. Regional staff are already working hard to form connections between leaders before LDP. “Fostering a connection during COVID is difficult as we all know,” Dani acknowledges, “We've had multiple Zoom calls between our leaders, hopefully opening up that initial line of communication between them. Most of our community growth will happen during our work trips during LDP, where our leaders can really grow individually and as a crew, and hopefully form some community between them. It won't be easy, but I think we can pull it off.”

Even while solidifying skills and fostering connections, MCC will be following the latest CDC recommendations for COVID-19 safety. While in person, everyone will wear KN-95 masks indoors and while traveling in vehicles, and when social distancing is difficult. As much as possible, we’ll be training outdoors. COVID-19 vaccinations for leaders and staff are not yet available so we’ll continue to rely on proven effective practices. But that will not deter us from having another great round of LDP! 

FC Dani raves, “I'm so excited to finally have our leaders here! Working with the office staff is great, but once the leaders get here, then it's a full throttle, stressful, challenging, wonderful experience that I wouldn't trade for the world!” 

Come next week, our chainsaws will be “vrooming,” and our leaders will do their share of “Zooming,” but we’re confident that this new team of crew leaders will be ready and excited to shepherd their crew members through another successful and transformative season.

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