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Posts Tagged ‘1918’

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Photo: Library of Congress.
A New York City school around the time of the flu pandemic. History shows it’s possible to hold classes outdoors when the safety of breathing indoors is uncertain.

Photos taken in the 1918 flu pandemic show some schools holding classes with all the windows open or even outdoors. Could we do that today? Reporter Nate Berg at Fast Company looked into the question.

“Sharon Danks has been working for more than 20 years to get schoolkids outdoors,” he writes. “As a trained landscape architect and urban planner, she says too many schools across the country ignore the educational and health benefits offered by the outdoor spaces of their campuses. This is something she’s been trying to change through her nonprofit Green Schoolyards America, based in Berkeley, California. …

“In April, Danks began having conversations about reopening local schools with three other organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. … In early June, the organizations cohosted a webinar on responding to COVID-19 by using outdoor spaces for education. More than 1,000 people from 40 states and eight countries registered.

“[The organizations then] created the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, an effort to create guidelines schools can follow to use their outdoor spaces more effectively in order to bring back face-to-face learning. Volunteers from across the country are now participating in 10 working groups focused on different aspects of moving classes outdoors, from funding to safety to the physical infrastructure needed to seat and teach students outside.

‘The central problem that we were looking at is that none of our schools were built to be able to accommodate kids 6 feet apart inside the building,’ Danks says.

“But what most schools are equipped with is outdoor space and playgrounds — spaces that can be adapted for outdoor learning. Through the use of physical objects such as shade structures and weatherproof seating and adjusted lesson plans that reduce teachers’ reliance on computer screens and overhead projectors, outdoor classrooms can allow classes to continue with the space and fresh air that epidemiologists believe prevents transmission of the virus.

“Outdoor learning can move all students outdoors, or at least shift enough of the student population outside to make indoor classrooms safe with smaller class sizes. Distance learning, with its inherent difficulties, inequities, and access challenges, may become just a rainy day backup plan. …

“In 2017, the San Mateo County Office of Education started an Environmental Literacy and Sustainability Initiative that focuses on increasing knowledge about environmental issues. It does so partly by integrating natural and outdoor spaces into school curricula. Andra Yeghoian, the initiative’s coordinator, says the program has been working to ensure that students at every grade level in its roughly 270 schools have daily access to outdoor learning and play spaces. … ‘Now COVID-19 has really flipped that to be that every kid at every grade level in every subject area can do the majority of their learning outside.’ …

“Danks estimates that only about 15% to 20% of schools in the U.S. have these kinds of facilities. ‘The other 80%, 85% of schools have probably never taken a class outside to do hands-on learning on their own site,’ she says.

“This is where the initiative’s working groups come in. Each is developing a set of two-page recommendations that will provide simple instructions for dealing with common outdoor complications like cold and hot weather, spatially distanced seating arrangements, dust, and insects. Eventually, the recommendations will be published as a free online guidebook. …

“Claire Latané is an assistant professor in Cal Poly Pomona’s landscape architecture department and is leading a group of volunteer landscape architects who are working directly with school officials to identify optimal spaces and sizes of outdoor classrooms. She says about 100 designers have signed up to help, and the first teams are using aerial imagery of campuses to find places with adequate shade, either under trees or carports, and ensuring any changes to school grounds comply with local fire and accessibility codes. They’re also advising on how the locations of outdoor classrooms can address weather concerns. …

“Three case studies have been published on Green Schoolyards America’s website, and offer suggestions for schools in different climates. … At a low cost of just a few thousand dollars, schools use only their existing outdoor shade and tree-covered areas, augmented with affordable seating such as hay bales and additional clothing for unexpected cold or wet weather. …

“The whole process of transitioning to outdoor education doesn’t have to be tortuous, Danks says.

‘In the last pandemic in 1918 to 1920, with tuberculosis and the Spanish flu, schools around the world went outside … even just moved their desks right outside their buildings,’ Danks says. ‘They didn’t overthink it, they just moved their space to where the air was fresher.’ ”

More at Fast Company, here.  Hat tip: ArtsJournal.

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