A growing push to conduct outdoor learning this school year has historic precedent


As the school year quickly approaches amid a pandemic that continues to spread across America, some New York parents and teachers are urging education officials to consider bringing back the 1.1 million NYC public school students back to school, but not back in schools.

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for the de Blasio administration’s open streets initiatives to be expanded to create outdoor classrooms for school children.

A group of parents started the petition, which builds on growing demands for outdoor learning— late on a Friday night demanding open streets near schools.

Tuesday he had nearly 2,000 signatures.

“We are committed to trying to find safe, rigorous and imaginative ways to return to in-person learning safely,” Rebekah Cook-Mack, mother of two elementary students at a school in Carroll Gardens, told Gothamist. . “We did this for restaurants and we need to do this for teachers, families, children and for the city.”

Tents, water fountains and other outdoor equipment would be needed, and space in parks could also be used, according to the petition proposal. “It has been done before and can be done well if we give our schools the resources they need and the time to plan,” the petition reads.

Indeed, the United States has created such outdoor classrooms during health crises in the past.

In the early 20th century, a number of open-air schools were established as part of the fight against tuberculosis epidemics in American cities. During the colder months, students were wrapped in thick blankets to form so-called “sitting bags” to keep them warm.

Open-air schools have been a success — no child fell ill in experiment conducted by two Rhode Island doctors– and the outdoor education movement continued for decades, with five international conferences until the mid 1900s.

In New York, the Horace Mann School has built two open-air spaces on the roof, with the south side fully open-air “rooms”, from a 1918 book on outdoor schools by Neil S. MacDonald, when more than 250 open-window classrooms had been built. At another Manhattan school, “weather permitting, all work is done in the open, on the roof; in bad weather, a classroom is provided,” MacDonald wrote.

In 1929, the then New York City Health Commissioner supported outdoor schools, echoing Chicago doctor who said that schools should be “palaces of sunshine” and that more attention should be paid to student health.

Cook-Mack, with an increase in first and third graders, says the call for outdoor learning builds on a pre-existing push to expand classes in gardens along New York’s waterfront and elsewhere.

“Is it the perfect solution to every problem? No. Does it give us options? Yes,” she said. “We know it’s safer outside. We know that. It’s clear.”

A comparative immunologist and professor of biology Told the Times, “Outdoors are definitely safer,” although experts recommend distance and masks outdoors. The massive protests against police brutality that saw tens of thousands of people crammed into the streets did not trigger a rise in cases of COVID-19 in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that any type of gathering be carried out with appropriate ventilation systems and increasing “outside air circulation” as much as possible by opening windows or doors, according to a July 7 note. The agency says gatherings should “prioritize outdoor activities” with social distancing.

So far, Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a “blended learning” plan, with students studying some days remotely and some days in person.

At a Monday morning press conference, de Blasio said other spaces for better distancing between students in already overcrowded schools are being evaluated — such as caravans or other unused spaces.

“Where there is additional space that could work for a school, that will be the first priority,” de Blasio said. “For a space to work for a school, it obviously has to be close enough and available quickly.”

The de Blasio administration has already leveraged 100,000 childcare spaces in libraries and cultural centers for working parents on remote learning days in the “blended” model.

“We are planning several reopening scenarios that will give every child the academic support they need while keeping them safe,” Department of Education spokeswoman Danielle Filson said in an email. “We are exploring all feasible options and continue to monitor this evolving situation.”


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