A classroom on a ferry in New York City, circa 1915.

Education Al Fresco… An Alternative?

My daughter, who is a preschool teacher in Brooklyn, called me last night. With the recent debate surrounding the opening of schools, it’s only natural that I’m concerned about her safety and the safety of the children she teaches. 

While I’m not an educator, I have immense respect for the field, and I’m concerned about how everything will (or will not) work. I read in the New York Times the other day which suggested outdoor schooling during a time when an aggressive contagion is present.  This seems like a simple innovative way to keep teachers, students, and their families healthier.  While it may seem a bit outside the box, outdoor education has other benefits as well. Families juggling work and childcare have probably been relying more than normal on screen time.  Kids have been learning less and retaining less with virtual classes as well.  The opportunity to regain their attention, pull them from their handheld devices, and getting them moving outdoors is huge.  Plus, we know that COVID spreads less readily outside.   

We have no comprehensive national plan to stop the spread of this disease; we can’t even get everyone to agree to wear a mask, let alone keep people safe.  The brunt of this disease is falling on communities of color and essential workers (grocery store employees, pharmacy technicians, medical professionals, firemen, teachers) who are on the front lines, and to be honest, earning the lowest wages.  Both my adult daughter (in Brooklyn) and my adult son (a geriatric social worker in Harlem) fall into this category.  They are underpaid and doing essential work. 

It’s a mess.

In underserved communities with limited access to technology or the means to embrace alternatives like “pod schools”, what happens to them? Add to this picture 4 million people who are currently in uncertain circumstances – unemployed, worried they can’t feed their kids, or if they will be evicted.  

Congress went home for a week. They won’t be worried about where their next meal comes from or if they have a roof over their heads. They earn a good living.  What does the rest of the country do while they play around with the decision to extend unemployment support?  We will have to come up with local solutions. This article reminds us there are reasonable alternatives and while not perfect, they may bring some true positives to the field of education.  Fresh air is good for kids, and maybe we can actually improve learning by giving young kids the space they need to move around outside while learning about the natural world.  

We have been collecting a body of information around COVID that is full of confusion.  We have to sort through scientific facts to separate them from the falsehoods that are Tweeted on social media.  One of the facts is that the disease rarely spreads outside.  Instead of sending teachers and students back to school so the parents can keep their sanity and the kids don’t lose out on their education, let’s mobilize the great outdoors.  Let’s shift to a summer camp model with some learning sprinkled in.  We might just end up with better adjusted, healthier student bodies, keep our teachers from getting sick, and slow the spread of the disease to our families.

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