SARATOGA SPRINGS — Students throughout Saratoga are spending more class time outside this year.
Open-air classrooms were utilized more than a century ago as a way to prevent the spread of tuberculous and are being reintroduced this year as a healthy way to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
When Fred McNeary, a Saratoga Springs High School alum and the CEO of Prestwick Chase at Saratoga, saw that NYRA loaned 175 picnic tables to the Saratoga Springs School District for courtyard seating, he got an idea.
This week, Prestwick Chase donated 75 Adirondack chairs to the district to further expand their outside seating options. The chairs were left over from an outdoor event the retirement community held on Mother’s Day this year.
“With the pandemic, everyone’s changing how they are having classes. We were happy to do it and the kids were happy to have them,” said John Rowe, Prestwick Chase Marketing Director.
BEING OUTDOORS BECOMES SECOND NATURE
For the children at Saratoga Independent School, being outside more is already becoming second nature.
“We’ve always incorporated some outdoor learning in our classes. We have this beautiful 60-acre campus with trails through the woods, so there are always things for students to see and learn outside. Now, we’re increasing our time outside and having it on a more regular basis for a lot of classes,” said Lisa Brown, Principal of Saratoga Independent School.
Under the school’s three large shade sails, students sit in a circle on foam pads or beach towels for morning meetings, language arts, snack, lunch and more. There are picnic tables, portable easels and whiteboards set up, as well.
The school purchased microphones and speakers so remote students could connect with the outdoor classrooms, and for Kindergarteners, sitting inside hula hoops serves as a visual and tactile social distancing solution.
“One of the best things that’s come from this whole experience is that the kids are taking it very seriously. Our school motto is to take care of ourselves, each other and the community. This allows the kids to be independent. Kids really do want to do the right thing,” said Brown.
PREPARED FOR PREVENTION
Grounded in the philosophy of hands-on learning, the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs was already running an all-outdoor Forest Kindergarten and is adding another following the same outdoor model.
Waldorf’s 1st through 7th grade students are now spending 75 percent of their school day outside, said Waldorf teacher and Faculty Chair, Astrea Ravenstar.
High school students are outdoors for half the day studying English, foreign languages and the practical arts.
Folding chairs equipped with supplies and even cushioned tree stumps have been set up to create outdoor classroom spaces. As the weather cools, the school will be setting up tents and heaters, as well.
When the weather is too wet, classes will be inside but the school’s big windows will remain open for increased ventilation.
“Kids need to dress in layers with hats on. They need to be a little more prepared to stay outside as much as possible. That, combined with the sanitation processes we have in place, really will help keep COVID at bay,” said Ravenstar.