Lessons about schooling from N.H. district

Schools far and wide are flummoxed by the nearly no-win choice between in-the-classroom instruction and teaching over the Internet. It would be hard to overstate how cumbersome virtual instruction is, given learning-curve challenges with the online platforms, connectivity issues and endless distractions in so many students’ homes. But safety in the school building is a huge concern.

The Contoocook Valley School District in Peterborough, N.H., however, offers an amazing story of another approach to the problem that would be well worth considering in school districts that we know. Through the first quarter of the school year in this year of Covid-19 pandemic, the district with 2,000 students in 11 buildings has provided in-person instruction every day and seems to have reduced the risk of being indoors all day.

Rich Cahoon, the school board chairman, explained in a Facebook post on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving:

“Today is our last day of in-person instruction until January 19th. Our reopening plan was based on the idea that we should take advantage of the ability to be outside to get as many days in person as possible in the fall, and then move to remote around holiday travel periods. Overall it has been an incredible success, with one positive Covid case in a staff member (not caught or transmitted to others at school) and 57 days of in-person instruction. The outdoor aspect was a tremendous amount of work for administrators and teachers. It was also so successful (and popular with students and parents) that we are currently pricing outdoor pavilions and figuring out where to place outdoor classrooms at all of our schools, so that outdoor learning remains a part of our model even after Covid is gone (and hopefully is easier on staff in the future). “Outdoor instruction works, it is affordable, and kids love it.”

Let’s repeat that last bit, just in case, maybe someone from the New York State Education Department is listening in: Outdoor instruction works, it is affordable, and kids love it.”

Importantly, outdoor instruction offers opportunities to engage students well beyond those possible in traditional indoor settings even without a health crisis nudging a few districts to give it a try. It’s simply more urgent now than ever.

Rich explains more about the implementation of outdoor instruction at the Outdoor Classroom Fall 2020 Facebook page in a number of posts over the last three months.

–Bill Stoneman

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