BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The National Wildlife Federation and GrowNYC have teamed up with outdoor education nonprofits in the New York City area to support schools that are expanding outdoor programs and classrooms in response to the current pandemic. The new Outdoor Learning NYC Toolkit is a comprehensive guide with resources that will help educators and staff plan and implement outdoor learning initiatives. The Toolkit can be downloaded here.
“At the National Wildlife Federation, we believe that outdoor environments can offer safe sites for student instruction and school activities, particularly during these unprecedented times,” said Sarah Ward, schoolyard and community habitats program manager for the National Wildlife Federation in New York City. “By expanding classrooms into outdoor spaces – on and off school grounds – we decrease the density of indoor classrooms, reduce the risk of virus transmission, and offer a range of social-emotional benefits, as well as experiential learning opportunities, for students and staff.”
“We’ve always believed in the benefits to getting kids outside, but this year it’s more important than ever – not only for keeping students and teachers safe, but because nature heals,” said Kristin Fields, director of GrowNYC’s school gardens program.
Compiled by school partners with expertise in outdoor education for students of all ages and abilities, the Toolkit includes guidance, tips, and practical resources for outdoor learning. It details potential sites to utilize as outdoor classrooms and outlines a range of considerations that will help schools center the health and safety of students, staff, and partners.
The Toolkit prioritizes the use of existing, free, or low-cost resources that will help schools in the short term. However, schools are encouraged to envision how outdoor experiences can be integrated into educational goals beyond the pandemic.
On November 12, the Toolkit was introduced through a virtual workshop where veteran outdoor educators shared their best practices for engaging students outdoors. Brooklyn New School Principal, Anna Allanbrook, described how “being outdoors benefits children immensely. There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Classes at Brooklyn New School, which had a robust nature-based outdoor education program prior to the pandemic, plan to stay outside all winter, and the school is using their garden, play yard, and a closed street for lunch, physical education, and a range of daily classes. Special Education STEM teacher, Abir Bousaid from P811Q, shared how her students are engaging in vocational jobs in the garden, and learning to independently complete tasks such as harvesting, washing, and cutting vegetables. Jeanne Salchli, teacher at PS 376, mentioned how her students turned a vacant lot into a learning garden that is enjoyed by the whole community, especially during the current pandemic. These three schools are part of the National Wildlife Federation’s NYC Eco-Schools program.
Outdoor learning spaces, especially green spaces, may help to address some of the emotional and psychological trauma, as well as the inequities, that students, families and staff have experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the compounded impacts of institutionalized racism. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented schools with an opportunity to address some of these inequities by creating active learning environments that are safe, inclusive, restorative, and intentionally designed to connect students to nature in as many ways and as often as possible.
GrowNYC is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization that helps residents make ours the most sustainable city in the world. Reaching millions every year, GrowNYC operates Greenmarket farmers markets, Fresh Food Box sites, and Farmstands; engages New Yorkers in recycling education; and builds and maintains green spaces and engages young people in hands-on education. Through its Farmer Assistance program, GrowNYC offers business development technical assistance to Greenmarket farmers to ensure their long-term viability.
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