M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust
Six young girls in leotards and ballet slippers dance in a ballet studio.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 this spring, the landscape of modern education has been dramatically altered. As schools close their doors for the year, students, parents, and teachers are faced with the new challenge of transitioning to online and remote learning. Beyond the classroom, zoos, theatres, and community centers can no longer provide their educational programming through typical methods. In the era of social distancing, we are encouraged by the examples of innovation and compassion of our grantees as they overcome significant obstacles and continue engaging and inspiring youth and communities in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.


While unable to host school field trips and other visitors, Zoo Boise is using creativity and social media to educate and entertain. Through a new series called “Zoo to You”, virtual audiences can find footage of animals with brief and engaging words from Zoo staff. As the series says, “just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean the learning and fun has to stop!”. Students, volunteers, and community members can find facts, photos, and activities on Zoo Boise’s website to engage with animal science from home.

Oregon Zoo

The Oregon Zoo is also bringing wildlife online with live videos each week, showcasing different animals and explaining their characteristics and care needs. Following each video, the Oregon Zoo’s award-winning education team posts coordinating activities online. These activities are aimed for children grades K-5, but all animal lovers can join the educational fun. Among other offerings is a page titled “Caring for Animals When the Zoo is Closed” to explain the ongoing care offered to the animals and ecosystems of the zoo during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Pacific Northwest Ballet

Pacific Northwest Ballet was forced to cancel performances, classes, and events through the end of April. In order to continue providing instruction, PNB will begin offering live classes on Zoom. Registration is online and open to all skill levels. Through this accessible and affordable format, PNB offers high-quality professional dance instruction to existing students and beginners alike. Beyond formal classes, PNB is using the Instagram live feature to broadcast lessons for free and keep followers updated with ways to support the Pacific Northwest Ballet Relief Fund, established to support the organization’s operations in the midst of the crisis and ensure many more years of art and education.

The Billings Family YMCA

Another important avenue of education is quality childcare for working parents. Especially now, the children of essential workers need access to engaging caregivers and meaningful curriculum. To fill this need, The Billings Family YMCA has expanded full-day childcare for essential workers who keep the vital services of Billings, Montana operational during the health crisis. By placing children in consistent small groups of under 10, social distancing guidelines are observed carefully to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. Children are given lessons in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) as well as reading, to ensure continued education and development. The Y also offers time in the Tech Room for students to complete assignments given virtually by schools. Through the Federal Summer Food Service Program, nutritious meals are served daily, and Emergency Childcare Funding offers these programs to families who need assistance but cannot afford it.

We are grateful for the innovative thinking and tireless dedication of nonprofits across the Pacific Northwest that continues to advance their mission of education and community-service.  To all individuals and organizations who are helping our communities stay connected during this unsettling time, we say “THANK YOU!”

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