Why isn’t anyone talking about outdoor classrooms? With sports cancelled and fields and playgrounds available among other unused outside spaces, large, medium and small canopy tents can be set up, and chairs and tables arranged with space needed between students. Pods of students could be created. Wouldn’t this idea present a safer option, with some brainstorming, resourcefulness, and thinking outside the (classroom) box?
People use open canopy tents for outdoor events for sun and rain protection. Restaurants in DC now use them to replace parking lanes for additional outdoor seating with extra space between tables; people feel safer outdoors instead of indoors. While talking with a colleague about my idea she suggested canopies with a couple of roll up sides in case students need more weather protection.
Christine Esposito, a teacher, recently wrote in The Washington Post, “Many risks stand in the way of me being with my students”. I’m curious as to how receptive teachers and parents would be to this idea if “These 8 Basic Steps” from The Atlantic July 9 Ideas contributors were combined with outdoor classrooms.
Run an outdoor classrooms idea by infectious disease experts to get their thoughts. The more heads that come together to think outside the (classroom) box, the more likely it could be tested and tweaked.
When I shared the idea with a friend, she suggested unused cafeteria tables and chairs for desks. Then I thought, put cardboard figures in between students to create space protection and set up modular plexiglass shields; and maybe everyone wears face shields in addition to masks; and put out sanitizer jugs everywhere, and give pocket-sized sanitizers to students, teachers and staff.
We need to explore ways to meet ALL needs and minimize risk. The 11th and 12th graders we support through All Out for Change®, who are the first in their families with aspirations for college, experience disadvantages without real teacher time and school resources to cultivate their achievement. Their wealthier peers, whose well-educated parents can help with online schooling at home, have quite an advantage.
It might be wise to look into this, perhaps less risky idea further as an option, so our less wealthy youth can be better served in the coming year. We need to prevent their fall further down the ladder they’re climbing in pursuit of higher education, careers and upward mobility. We must put our heads together to facilitate continued achievement and keep ALL students on track.
I didn’t expect my curiosity about the idea of outdoor classrooms to take me down the systemic inequities path. But not surprising that’s where my thoughts headed since the organization I founded addresses the systemic inequities many low-income high school students face, including the “digital divide” that hurts them now more than ever. Last year we provided a local youth development program with 9 laptops for a computer workshop and workspace. We were told it was a “game changer” for 11th and 12th graders; unfortunately, students without computers can’t access the space now nor can they attend group college counseling and professional development workshops in the space.
Since campus shutdowns, the computers we provided to individual 11th and 12th graders have been invaluable tools, allowing them to go online for classes at home. Yes, the computers the students received are a silver lining around a massive dark cloud. But as the new school year approaches, a July 22 Washington Post article shed light on another systemic injustice arising out of the pandemic: “Private teachers and the cost of inequality; Many parents are set to pay for home lessons to avoid health risk, remote learning woes, widening education gap”.
The students who received computers from us could finish the school year online, but they will face a more serious disadvantage besides no family members to help with homeschooling in the coming year. Now their wealthier peers’ parents are paying for private teachers to create in-home schools. Campus shutdowns clearly exacerbate the conundrums and hurdles our system presents to under-resourced students in their pursuit of high school achievement and higher education.
And speaking of conundrums, I totally appreciate Ms. Esposito’s concerns as a teacher, and wonder how everyone could be better served in the new school year. If infectious disease specialists suggested that some version of the outdoor classroom idea could possibly work, by implementing specific protocol, would she, as a teacher and parent, consider being with her students?
Chief Engagement Officer & Founder
All Out for Change®
Chief Engagement Officer, AllOutForChange.org