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EE Organizations in the Pandemic

by Kelly Jay Smith, University of Arizona

In the wake of pandemic many Environmental Education (EE) organizations across Arizona and the nation have been experiencing major setbacks.

In an attempt to measure the effects of the pandemic on the EE field, the Lawrence Hall of Science – part of the University of California Berkeley, surveyed nearly 1,000 EE organizations. They found the 63% percent of EE & outdoor science organizations are not if they will be able to open again if pandemic restrictions and impacts last until the end of the year.

You can read the full policy briefing from this study at:

The Impact of COVID-19 on Environmental Education and Outdoor Science Education

However, with science museums, residential programs, and other formal/informal environmental & science education institutions not able to engage the public in the usual face-to-face programs throughout the pandemic, new ways of engaging the public in a safe way have been coming to the forefront.  The Lawerence Hall of Science has attempted to be a part of this solution.  Lawerence Hall of Science, the developer of the Amplify Science, FOSS, and SEPUP science curriculums, has coordinated with the publishers of these curriculums to make sure environmental & science learning can continue at home.  This includes providing access to digital simulations, video lessons, allowing unregistered user access to websites, and much more.  You can learn more about what they are offering by following the link below.

https://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/about/newsroom/in_the_news/learning-at-home

This same type of innovation can be found here close to home in Arizona, as well.  The Cooper Center for Environmental Learning has created Camp Cooper Online – a free video series for K-5 students.  These videos created by the educators at the Cooper Center have created activities that can be done at home while viewing the videos.  More information about what the Cooper Center is doing can be found in the link below.      

https://coopercenter.arizona.edu/

Environmental Education has always been about exploring the world around us.  During this unprecedented time in our history, using innovative ways to bring both science and environmental education into the home is more important than ever.

Outdoor Classrooms as Plan A for Reopening Schools

Outdoor Classrooms as Plan A for Reopening Schools

As states, districts, principals, teachers, and parents are trying to decide if, and when, students should return to school, here is something to consider: What if Outdoor Classrooms were Plan A for reopening schools?

Using the outdoors can provide a cost effective way to assist with social distancing and increase school capacity. Having students utilize outdoor classrooms for at least part of the day has many benefits. It provides a place for social learning and collaboration; fresh air; hands-on learning opportunities; and therapeutic quiet, reflective spaces. The air quality is generally better outside than inside and some studies have shown that “environmental conditions, such as wind and sunlight, may reduce the amount of virus present on a surface and the length of time the virus can stay viable.”(Green Schoolyards)

Opening schools by utilizing the outdoors can also be a way to address the issues of equity; academic and social learning; and mental, physical, and emotional health.

Green Schoolyards, in collaboration with the Lawrence Hall of Science, Ten Strands, and San Mateo County Office of Education’s Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative, are working on a plan to assist schools with reopening by using the outdoors as a way to provide a safer, more engaging, Plan A.

Green Schoolyards is developing resources to assist schools with the logistics of outdoor classrooms. They have downloadable resources such free schoolyard activity guides including:

The Green Schoolyards website also includes case studies of model programs and a section with multiple news articles related to outdoor learning.

Guides for national and state guidance and policies for COVID-19 planning considerations for reopening schools can be found at https://www.greenschoolyards.org/covid-19-guidance It includes guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Disease Control and Prevention; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; American Camp Association; North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE); California Department of Education; California Department of Public Health; and the Florida Department of Education.

 

Okay, so we know that getting kids outdoors can be a good thing, but how should schools design their landscape to encourage outdoor learning? Green Schoolyards has launched a new, pro bono landscape design assistance program that partners schools with volunteer designers to assist with the process.

 

 

Green Schoolyards also has downloadable tools and resources including Outdoor Infrastructure Planning Overview, Outdoor Classroom Configuration Options, and Outdoor Infrastructure Cost Estimate Tool. https://www.greenschoolyards.org/outdoor-infrastructure

Do you want to get involved with helping to shape the national initiative of Outdoor Classrooms? Green Schoolyards has convened working groups to do just that. The working groups will collaborate to write chapters of what will be a comprehensive, online resource book that will be available as a free download once it is completed.

They welcome teachers, administrators, parents, engineers, companies, non-profit organizations, informal educators, and others to join the initiative by participating in one or more of the working groups. The working groups include the following:

  1. Plans to ensure equity
  2. Outdoor classroom infrastructure
  3. Park/school collaboration
  4. Outdoor learning & instructional models
  5. Staffing & formal/nonformal partnerships
  6. School program integration (with PE, recess, before/after care)
  7. Community engagement
  8. Health & safety considerations
  9. Local & state policy shifts
  10. Funding & economic models
  11. Community of practice for Early Adopters

Get involved and help shape the Outdoor Classroom initiative! More information about the working groups can be found at: https://www.greenschoolyards.org/working-groups

Let’s work together to create healthy learning environments!