Outdoor education advocates hope a $500,000 allocation from lawmakers will get more students out of New Mexico in the next school year.
The funding, which is part of the massive general appropriations bill the Legislature passed last month, will allow the state Department of Public Education to fund a state-level position to overseeing outdoor learning initiatives and also providing professional development and grants to school districts seeking more equipment. for outdoor learning spaces.
The initiative behind the appropriation comes from Senate Bill 32, introduced by Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City. The bill itself, which provided specific amounts for spending on full-time positions and grant funds, did not pass the Legislature, but lawmakers worked the funding into the bill. main budget bill.
“It was one of my top priorities, given the ongoing pandemic, that districts have the support they need to create outdoor learning spaces if they want to,” Correa said. Hemphill.
Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson wrote in an email Monday that the department has not decided how many people it will hire, although Correa Hemphill’s bill suggests an “outdoor learning specialist” and an assistant. Funding will not be available until July.
Learning outside a school building, often on playgrounds or other areas of campus, took on heightened visibility during the coronavirus pandemic when nearby indoor spaces were considered vulnerable to the spread. of COVID-19. Many schools have started to hold classes outdoors, using the spaces they have.
The new funding is intended to support both outdoor learning, which relies on a natural environment to guide a lesson, and outdoor learning, which could involve a course like algebra being taught at school. ‘outside.
Because outdoor learning is not coordinated at the state level, implementation varies from school to school and teacher to teacher, said Lisa Randall, director of the Santa Fe Public Schools Sustainability Program.
Randall said she’s especially excited about the opportunities the state funding will provide to help teachers learn how to educate children outdoors.
This year, the district has set a goal to build an outdoor classroom for each school at a cost of about $20,000 from general obligation funds, she said. These spaces can be used for everything from environmentally-focused learning to subjects like English and math.
“We can build as many outdoor classrooms as we want, but if we don’t help educators learn how to learn outdoors and how to be comfortable and effective outdoors, they won’t be used as we hope”, Randall mentioned.
She said the pandemic’s focus on clean air has increased the district’s desire to expand outdoor learning spaces. Randall said schools have plenty of play spaces, but many aren’t “really equipped for outdoor learning.”
“I think we’ve heard this loud and clear, that in Santa Fe Public Schools we need to create more spaces where kids can be outdoors and learn outdoors,” Randall said.
Creating a statewide position to oversee outdoor learning initiatives is just the first step to getting more children outdoors, the spokeswoman said. New Mexico Environmental Education, Stephanie Haan-Amato.
The nonprofit hopes to see a statewide library of outdoor gear for students and a more developed curriculum for teachers to use while outdoors.
“We see a lot of engagement for students if they really integrate the natural environment,” she said. “It’s really good if there is already a program developed.”
Haan-Amato said outdoor learning programs are harder to find in more rural areas of New Mexico, and often children have a harder time accessing them where they exist if they have parents. who work or obstacles to transportation.
She hopes that public funds will eliminate some of these inequalities.
“There are so many evidence-based health benefits for children; physical, mental and spiritual health,” Haan-Amato said. “This new program … is a very important first step in achieving equitable outdoor and environmental learning in New Mexico.”