outdoor class

‘I Love It Outside': Vt. Schools See Success With Outdoor Class Amid COVID

The approach is designed to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading within school communities

NBC Universal, Inc.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Vermont schools are holding classes outdoors more than ever.

At the Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Shelburne, third grade students were wearing hats and coats outdoors Tuesday, but their study of phonetics and parts of speech was otherwise the same as it would have been inside.

“We feel really inspired that we’re not just making the best of a bad situation, we’re actually stepping in to something new,” said Jas Darland, Lake Champlain Waldorf's head of school.

Many schools are embracing outdoor learning as a way to promote physical distancing. Plus, it’s thought COVID-19 is a lot less likely to spread in fresh air.

“I feel so much safer,” Lake Champlain Waldorf School teacher Rebekah Hopkinson said of the outdoor format. “And I love teaching outside. Everything I do inside, I can do outside, I’m finding.”

“I just hope school’s not going to be shut down again,” said Arielle Greenblatt, a third grader at the school. “Because online learning was the most boring thing I’ve experienced in my whole life.”

Asked if she enjoys the way the school year started, the student responded, “Yes, I love it outside.”

Classrooms will look quite different in many places when students go back to school in several weeks. In Vermont, some educators will be encouraging physical distancing by taking their lessons outdoors.

At the Chamberlin School in South Burlington, a Pre-K through fifth grade school, a tent is serving a lot of purposes, including housing an art class that recently asked kids to paint what they thought coronavirus looks like. As you’d expect, there were lots of interpretations of the virus resembling monsters.

At Chamberlin, there’s another benefit to getting outside, principal Holly Rouelle noted.

“It’s the only time children can take their masks off, so they’re coming outside for mask breaks and having a lot of movement breaks outside,” Rouelle said.

Across the city at the private, independent Schoolhouse, an outdoor sink is promoting hand-washing. Even student lockers are now heavy-duty tubs which are outside and spread out. Shared tables have plexiglass dividers for another layer of protection.

“We had one windy day that was hard to do math outside with the papers blowing everywhere,” said Liz Shayne, the Schoolhouse’s head of school. “So we moved inside. We’re not forbidding them to be inside, but they’re really trying to get everything done outside, and they’re doing a great job of it.”

Back at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School, administrators said planning is underway to use outdoor heaters and reusable soapstone pocket-warmers, so outdoor classes can continue — even in chillier temperatures.

“There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing,” Hopkinson said, describing her confidence in the continuation of outdoor learning.

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