Can outdoor classrooms solve school reopening problems?

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 5:42 PM EDT
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THETFORD, Vt. (WCAX) - As districts work to prepare for in-person instruction, some schools are thinking outside the box-- and even outside the classroom. Our Adam Sullivan explains.

School districts across the region continue to develop their protocols for reopening, which, in most cases, include a mix of remote and in-person learning. At Thetford Academy, outdoor space is also a big part of that equation.

Students at Thetford Academy built a beautiful timber frame outdoor classroom a couple of years ago. It's now being used as a model for learning moving forward.

"We are ready to maximize our outdoor resources. We have a lot of outdoor resources and we are augmenting those with three large event tents," said Carrie Brennan, the head of school at Thetford Academy.

Remote learning will be the primary platform this coming year, but additionally, students can also choose to come to campus two or four days a week. And this fall they will be spending plenty of time outside.

"Classes can get outside, pods can have lunch outside, students can take outdoor breaks, they can take some of their learning outdoors," Brennan said.

Fritz Junker is going into his junior year. He admits he struggled when school shut down at the beginning of the pandemic.

"I had to teach myself basically how to do most of the stuff," Junker said.

He says he's looking forward to returning to in-person learning but has his doubts about the next school year.

"I'm most worried that one kid is going to show up with a symptom but it's not actually that, and then they are just going to take everyone out for like two weeks, and it is going to be this stop and go, stop and go kind of schooling," Junker said.

"They will adjust, but they need to be together and adjust together," said Sean Boyce, Junker's dad.

Boyce appreciates the options Thetford Academy is working on, especially plans to use the sprawling campus.

"And inside classes, too, with masks and stuff. It's the new way we have to do things now, at least for the foreseeable future," he said.

Thetford Academy is the oldest secondary school in Vermont. But for this coming school year, it's working to prepare as if it was a startup.

"We are doing the best we can and I think everyone needs to put community and student safety first," Brennan said.

The tents are expected to arrive on campus in the next couple of weeks, giving staff to get them ready for the September 8 start date.

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