By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
Alyssa Fielder sports a t-shirt of a sunrise over a mountain river that says ‘not all classrooms have walls.’ She knows this is true because, as a third grade teacher at Kingsbury Country Day School, her class has spent over half of this school year outdoors. They recently hit the 500-hour milestone – more time than any other class at the K-8 public charter school.
To make in-person learning safer during the pandemic, Kingsbury encouraged classes to go outside this year. “My kids really teamed up on it and we were just outside as much as possible,” Fielder said. “We did every subject outside.”
Outdoor education has long been part of the philosophy at Kingsbury, located on a 100-acre wooded campus at 5000 Hosner Rd. on the border of Oxford and Addison townships. “During a typical school year, we would have classes outside too. But with the social distancing requirements and the general atmosphere of the pandemic, we’ve decided to have class outside more,” Head of School David Poirier told The Leader at the beginning of the school year.
Fielder’s class logged their hours every day on a chart. “It is quite amazing,” said Candace LaGest, a parent of three at the school and one in Fielder’s class. “Especially considering the entire school was shut down all of November so they could not collect any hours for that month.”
When LaGest was subbing for the class one day, she had them reading outside. “They all told me ‘no, no, no’ as I tried to put a half an hour of outside time down,” she recalled, “two children were in speech therapy. It doesn’t count unless everyone is outside!”
Besides all the usual academics, the class did more outdoorsy activities, too. They completed a 52-day challenge where they went on a hike 52 days in a row. They made a wigwam. On Native American day, they spent the entire day outside, and washed their own clothes in a traditional way.
“It was tough but it was also amazing,” a student named Hannah said enthusiastically. “We went outside in any weather: hail, sleet, snow, rain, thunder and lightning!”
The amazing part was seeing so much nature, “like birds and turtles – sometimes we see turtles that are this big” she made a circle with her index finger and thumb, a little larger than a quarter “and frogs that are so pretty. And once, when we were on the trails, we even saw deer.”
They continued outside, even in winter. “It was cold, it was challenging, but they did really good,” Fielder said. “You just dress warm and do what you can with gloves and anything you couldn’t do with gloves, you kind of just did real quick and then put gloves back on.” They had fun using snow paints, instead of pencils, to write in the snow.
On June 1, Fielder’s class celebrated their achievement by taking a memory walk, stopping at pictures on trees commemorating the many things they have done outside this year. Then, as a special surprise, a tractor and hay trailer pulled up to the school. The class took a hayride down the road to the house of Jane Saxon, a former Kingsbury librarian, parent, and longtime supporter of the school, for an ice cream party! The kids had a choice of cones, sundaes or root beer floats. Watermelon was for dessert.
Saxon asked the kids to raise their hands if they would do this year over again. All hands shot up.
By James Hanlon