With school starting in a matter of days and weeks for most of America now is the time to press our senators for federal action on expanding outdoor education. American students and teachers need outdoor education as an alternative to returning to crowded classrooms. Outdoor education programs can include rural or urban experiences in which students participate in a variety of adventurous challenges and outdoor activities. Kids can learn as they hike, climb, canoe, or ropes courses. Outdoor education can use philosophy and science to teach kids about the world and wildlife around them. It seems as if every student has had the desire at one point to ask the teacher if they can have class outside. Almost every college and university uses a photo of a student reading under a tree for their promotional brochure. Education outside of the classroom can be found in all cultures but in 2020 outdoor education has a new priority.
Health organizations around the world have advocated the need to social distance during the Coronavirus pandemic. It seems impossible for students, teachers, and staff to social distance inside a classroom. Iowa is a small and mostly rural state but Iowa’s small stature does not exempt students from crowded classrooms. The rural/urban divide continues as more and more schools consolidate abandoning rural schools and forces rural students to be bussed into bigger schools creating crowded classrooms. Outdoor education can be a solution not just for crowded classrooms but also for a resource to social distance.
There is still so much to learn about the Coronavirus but what we do know is that indoors can be a risk factor with crowds. Online education has been proven to be a solution for distance learning but it does have its drawbacks when there is a lack of broadband. Outdoor education has been proven to be a healthy resource but during a deadly contagious respiratory pandemic outdoor education may be a lifesaver.
There are schools and communities across the world who are taking a second look at outdoor education as a resource to continue education but not in Iowa, at least not at the federal level. Here in Iowa, Senator Grassley and Senator Ernst have been silent on federal plans for education. Grassley and Ernst have taken the see nothing do nothing approach to students returning to school. Ernst and Grassley declined to weigh in on whether or not schools should have masks mandates. Lack of leadership is making the COVID-19 worse and it will take bold leadership needed to expand outdoor education and have students return to a safe environment.