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Posts Tagged ‘outdoor’

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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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Vermont’s Farm Ballet

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Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

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The Royal Frog Ballet recently staged an outdoor event to welcome fall, but according to the lead players, it wasn’t so much a performance for strangers as a gift to new friends. The effect was surreal and entertaining.

Amelia Mason reports at WBUR, “A masked woman in an apron and kerchief jumps up on a picnic table and addresses a crowd.

“ ‘I’m your grandmother, and I’m here to help you throughout this show …  The first thing to know is that when I ring this bell it means we’re all going to move to the next thing and you’re going to have to follow my directions, OK?’

“It is the opening night of the Royal Frog Ballet’s ninth-annual ‘Surrealist Cabaret.’ Our guide — Shea Witzo, in the role of the Granny — gives us some more instructions: Watch out for holes. Stick close together. But first — wait. We pause for a moment, unsure of where to look.

“Then, 6-year-old Aiden Bairstow catches sight of something.

“ ‘Oh, I know what’s happening,’ he says. ‘I see it right behind you.’ We turn to see a band — fiddle, accordion and drums — approaching from across the field.

“The farm, it turns out, has many secrets in store. No matter where we look, something strange and surprising is bound to appear: a tall, swaying monster on stilts, for instance, or the pair of scientists who inform us that we are part of their experiment. At one point, our guide delights us with a salty parody of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ The pieces are linked loosely around a theme. …

“ ‘A lot of us are trying to make work that is like a gift, rather than a performance for [the audience],’ says Sophie Wood, one of the founders of the ‘Surrealist Cabaret.’ The project started in 2007, when Wood and a group of artist friends decided to perform some of their works-in-progress at a farm in Amherst. They mounted the production in a big barn and served the audience dinner. …

“The collective goes by the name the Royal Frog Ballet, and it has mounted weird and whimsical performances every year since its founding. … This fall, the theme is ‘hope and joy.’ …

“ ‘It feels like an old tradition,’ says Leah Sakala. … ‘It feels like we’re partaking in something, the kind of art that’s been made for a very long time, but at the same time it manages to be very relevant.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Sarah Ledbetter for WBUR
A performance of the “Surrealist Cabaret” in Essex, Mass., in October.

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