Join NoVA Outside and sign on in support of urging Arlington Public Schools to incorporate Green Schoolyards America’s recommendations for using outdoor spaces into their reopening plans. Sign our petition at the bottom of the page and read more why this action is important.
COVID-19 changed the calculus for safe, socially distant classrooms. The problem is universal: you can either increase square footage to accommodate the students, or you can reduce the students. Some have chosen to educate fewer students, but what if APS chooses to enlarge the educational space instead? There is significant evidence from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the WHO that educating children outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the virus. Each child can go to school every day by extending classroom square footage utilizing outdoor space. We can minimize COVID-19 exposure risk, maintain adequate social distance, and educate all of our county’s children fully every weekday if we plan well. Teachers and families believe this should be contingent on safety precautions, equitable access across the county, secure outdoor areas, cleaning, weather considerations, and health– but that county leaders should explore this idea NOW. This idea has taken hold in other cities, counties, states and around the world with innovative solutions.
We can use schoolyards, and where there is not enough space on the schoolyard, we can use other outdoor spaces. By allowing use of public parks, parking lots and other spaces- we can have an EQUITABLE approach that allows all schools to use outdoor space, improve student mental health, allow adults to go back to work, improve physical health and make sure our children and educators are safe. We can use trained informal educators from nature centers, museums, and parks, many of whom are currently furloughed, to assist teachers when classes are split into smaller, socially distanced groups.
Check out how Denmark made it happen. Denmark and many other countries have smartly recognized that the easiest and most effective way to ease back into in-person education is by starting with the youngest grades- those who cannot stay home alone and for whom technology is an even less effective delivery method. Read about a physical therapist’s take on the health implications of sitting in front of screens all day
We’ve all experienced the downsides of virtual learning- including too much screen time for our children. The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley collected data across multiple cities in California and found that over 60% of children in low-income neighborhoods never turned on their school-issued devices. It’s time to focus on another approach.
There is a wealth of data demonstrating the value of being outside to children’s physical and mental health and now is the perfect time to incorporate outdoor learning into the school day for as many students as possible. Exposure to natural settings appears to have an intrinsic effect on our emotional and cognitive functioning. Studies also show that being in natural settings can defuse stress. Brief nature walks can reduce anxiety, distraction, and symptoms of ADHD.
Green Schoolyards America is currently convening ten national working groups to develop free and comprehensive planning resources for school districts across the US to follow in implementing this approach. Check out their reopening schools webpage, and this amazing two-page resource that describes the idea.