In this special feature article for Finding Nature News, author Jay Walljasper paints a picture of what Back-to-School 2020 could like all across America—with green schoolyards offering a safer, more equitable middle ground in the wrenching decisions over in-person vs. online instruction.
In inner-city Chicago, an English class spends reading time under newly planted shade trees on the schoolyard, while younger kids tend a garden plot, exclaiming “we’re growing a salad.”
In Grand Rapids, 5th graders at a lower-income school scramble across bridges, scoot through tunnels, and climb a lookout made from logs and stumps—which they helped design in art class. Middle-schoolers nearby study math at a new outdoor classroom built into a hillside.
In rural Plumas County, California, students at 18 schools now attend some classes in forests, meadows, or banks of the Feather River within a ten-minute walk from their homerooms.
Making School Safe in the Midst of a Pandemic
It’s not too late for educators, parents, and superintendents to take steps that allow kids to learn in fresh air settings at least part of the time, which can tip the scales toward in-person education for some school districts. This can be easily and economically done by opening up school grounds, closing-off adjoining streets, walking to nearby parks, or incorporating field trips into the K-12 curriculum.
“Officials need to think outside the building,” editorialized the New York Times, noting “in Denmark, schools held spring classes on playgrounds, in public parks and even in the stands of the national soccer stadium.”
Letting millions of students head outdoors is one of the best ways to ensure that kids (and ultimately their families and communities) are not exposed to coronavirus all day long sitting inside school buildings. Nearly all epidemiological studies show that chances of COVID-19 infection are dramatically reduced out-of-doors. One of the few comprehensive studies tracing the spread of the COVID-19 so far—done in Wuhan, China, earlier this year— found only one case out of 7,000 was directly attributable to open-air transmission.
At almost 100 public schools in Austin, students of all ages engage in hands-on lessons by keeping chickens, taking nature walks, investigating pond life, and other hands-on opportunities right outside their schoolhouse doors. “It helps kids find imagination in so many things, and invites their curiosity in ways that adults sometimes forget about,” reports the school district’s Sustainability Manager Darien Clary.
This is what Back-to-School 2020 could like all across America—with green schoolyards offering a safer, more equitable middle ground in the wrenching decisions over in-person vs. online instruction.