Returning to School? We Want to Help you Safely Opt Out(side)

Stephen Mullaney

February 20, 2021

In recent weeks, we’ve all been hearing more and more from parents, educators, and even the nation’s top disease experts on the impending opening of schools across the nation.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has suggested that school districts developing their plans for campus reopening should find ways to offer as many outdoor activities as possible. Fauci said that could include everything from outdoor classes, to recess, and lunchtime.

Plans for just when and how schools will reopen are being formulated and fine-tuned, and the consensus seems to be that being outside is the safest place to be during the instructional day. As states start to mandate returns to school, safety and quality of education are at the forefront of design.

Obviously, you’ll get no argument about that from those of us here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). And we have some suggestions. But first, here are the questions we are hearing most often from you.

Why move outdoors?

Doctor Fauci already told us that spending time outdoors is safer during times of infectious diseases, and we’re puzzled why some schools forget that being outside is often best for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Studies have shown that, in districts with high numbers of second language students, learning outdoors is closing the achievement gap amplified by COVID-era instruction.

Do I have to go outside every day to make it work?

Learning outdoors is not an all or nothing proposition. Serious planning for outdoors participation and then sticking to that practice, only prolongs safety in an open environment. And such scheduling also allows revamped ventilation systems the opportunity to “take a breather,”” by dispersing particles from the air, thus reducing viral spread and giving the classrooms a breather.

How can NCOAE help this process?

Take a peek at our website. You’ll see we’ve spent the last decade teaching students outside in some of the most beautiful places in the world. Our instructors provide high-quality lessons in academic areas as well as social and emotional areas. When conditions are harsh, we keep teaching and students continue learning.

We can help you teach and interact with students in the safest places at your school — those outdoor classrooms and learning spaces.

For example, we can tour your campus and guide you through:

  1. Identifying the best places on your campus to lead outdoor learning
  2. Create safety and site management plans
  3. Lead professional development to assist in planning and delivering high-quality instruction connected to the standards and desired outcomes of your school or district.
  4. Designing the highest quality expeditions off campus and around the globe that support students learning, and
  5. Define a program that fits your student and staff needs.

What is NCOAE’s process?

During our initial meetings and visits, we explore a school’s cultural mission and its need for outdoor and experiential education programming. From this point, we can begin to create custom outdoor education programs that fit your particular school. There’s no turnkey or cookie-cutting solutions here at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education; we help you set up programs and design courses that make a difference in the lives of your students.

Our custom programming and consulting is proven to work successfully for college prep academies; public, suburban, rural, and charter schools; and alumni programs for independent schools.

What makes us qualified to help you?

We know the difference between outdoor adventure and learning in the outdoors.

With veteran licensed educators on staff, we are familiar with all that goes into the planning, delivering, and assessing of academic programs. We will help you implement outdoor learning practices and success into the DNA of your school.

As your school and learning institutions move closer to full reopening, know that you have an outdoor education partner at  NCOAE.

To speak with someone in our Custom Programs Dept., please call (910) 399-8090.

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About the Author: Stephen Mullaney is the Director of School Partnerships at The National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE). He has worked domestically and internationally with schools, organizations, and wilderness programs. His classrooms have ranged from dilapidated trailers at overcrowded, underfunded  schools to the Himalayan mountains and everything imaginable in between. His past students include gang members/prisoners, education majors, college and university professors, and pioneers in the field out outdoor and adventure-based experiential education. Stephen’s philosophy is to focus on the development of positive working and learning environments. He brings more than a quarter of a century of education experience and understanding of human nature to any organization, whether it is an education institution or a private company. His writing has appeared in adventure sports/education journals, magazines and on the web. Stephen prefers to arrive by bicycle and sit in the dirt.

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