Outdoor science and environmental education programs are on the verge of a crisis. Nearly all are shut down, the majority are not certain whether they will reopen. Ever. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of outdoor and environmental educators are idle, out of work, considering career changes. At the same moment, our K-12 schools are preparing for 100% remote learning, or staggered schedules and hybrid learning that we know is suboptimal for all students and, in particular, causing harm in communities of color and low income communities.
We think these two sectors can help solve each others’ problems in extraordinarily mutually beneficial ways. When it’s advisable for re-opening, schools can expand the amount of space they have to bring students back for safe, physically distanced in-person learning by taking advantage of the outdoors–their schoolyards, neighborhoods and nearby parks. Time outdoors can provide opportunities for deep cleaning of classrooms or opportunities for larger group of students to come together and connect. Outdoor and environmental educators can be redeployed to teach small groups of students outside on days when they would otherwise be isolated at home in remote learning.
Arranging these partnerships is complex, but we think well worth the effort to rescue our field AND to provide the highest quality, safest, healthiest learning experiences possible for our children. We know we can’t gather students for in person learning anywhere until our health departments tell us it’s safe to do so, but we know this to be true also:
- It will be safe for students to learn together in person outdoors before it will be safe for them to do so indoors;
- When it is safe for students to learn together in person indoors, it will still be safer for them to do so outdoors;
- When it is safe for students to learn together in person, we can avoid staggered schedules and the burden it places on parents and caregivers by using both our indoor and outdoor spaces for learning!
This webpage shares information for the new National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative. This Initiative was launched with an online public forum entitled: Outdoor Spaces as Essential Assets for School Districts’ COVID-19 Response, held on June 4, 2020. The event was co-hosted by: Green Schoolyards America, The Lawrence Hall of Science, San Mateo County Office of Education, and Ten Strands. We are now convening a series of working groups to further develop the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative over the summer. The working groups are creating frameworks, strategies, and guidance to share with school districts across the country. Please visit this page often to receive updates on materials as new items are posted. We hope you will help us share this information widely, and that you will consider joining this effort by participating in one of the working groups.