Open doors to outdoor learning

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Proposed by wild whatcomwritten by Licia Sahagun

A coalition in Whatcom County is working together to help the community rethink learning, childcare and peer connection. The Whatcom Coalition for environmental education (WCEE), made up of more than a dozen nonprofit organizations, businesses, agencies and tribal institutions in the region, meets regularly to identify areas for increased collaboration and coordination among their organizations and with schools. As an active community of professionals, WCEE is focused on broadening and deepening access to high-quality, culturally appropriate environmental education for every child in Whatcom County. With the emergence of COVID-19, the Coalition is now focusing on integrating outdoor learning as a tool for the equitable and safe reopening of schools, as it becomes clearer that it can be a safe option for learn in the fall:

  1. We’re learning more about how it’s safer to congregate outdoors. Experts are speak out publicly about outdoor gathering safetyand preliminary case studies are beginning to confirm that transmission of COVID-19 is much greater in indoor settings than in outdoor gatherings.1,2
  2. Education and health officials recommend spending more time outdoors. Tips for Learning Fall 2020 from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington encourages public instructors to provide more space between students, including keeping students outdoors more. This advice follows the advice of local and global health officials who prefer outdoor gatherings as much as possible.
  3. Whatcom County boasts local outdoor experts and an abundance of natural spaces. In addition to the plethora of public parks, we have a wealth of knowledge in the community, as evidenced by WCEE members and groups such as the Audubon Society of North Cascades and the Northwest Mushroom Association.
  4. Spending time outdoors also has intrinsic and scientifically proven benefits for mental and physical health. Now, more than ever, going out can be a vital addition to our daily regimen.

During this unprecedented time, there is also unprecedented potential for organizations and schools to work together to support young people in equitable and safe learning. Keren Bitan and Ben Greené, who co-lead WCEE as a program of the Whatcom Community Foundation, share “while the pandemic has forced so many organizations to rethink and adapt, it is incredibly inspiring to see these leaders give a powerful example of working together for the benefit of every young person, creating new models of safe, equitable and inclusive learning outdoors. A stronger partnership between schools and outdoor educators can both reduce the COVID-19 risks of in-person teaching and peer-to-peer connection and save an invaluable industry in the community.

This article is adapted from a longer blog post by Licia Sahagun, Executive Director of Wild Whatcom on the coalition, the benefits of outdoor education, and the economic impact of COVID-19 on the outdoor education industry.

If you would like to learn more, get involved, or donate to support our local outdoor educators, visit the Whatcom Coalition of Environmental Education website at www.whatcomenvironmentaleducation.com. Donations are processed by the Whatcom Community Foundation.

Learn more about Wild Whatcom at www.WildWhatcom.com.
Contact: 360-389-3414 or [email protected] regarding organization services.

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