By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
As schools across the country struggle to find a safe way to return school with limited classroom space for social distancing, two schools in Oxford have a solution: have class outside as much as possible.
Outdoor education has long been part of the educational philosophy of Kingsbury Country Day School located on a 100-acre wooded campus at 5000 Hosner Rd. Established in 1953, the K-8 public charter school is holding classes 85% outside.
“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,” said Head of School, David Poirier.
The vision statement of Kingsbury’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan says, “Our students already are used to spending extensive time outdoors and our teaching staff is proficient in taking learning outside the four walls of the classroom. For this reason, we have decided to hold as much of our school day as possible outside during the months of August, September, and October 2020.”
Even in the colder months, outdoor learning will continue. “The good news is our kids go outside until it is zero degrees,” Poirier said, “so we’ll be able to be outside for a lot of the winter, we’ll just take more frequent breaks inside.”
Since more time is spent outside, mask requirements are less stringent. Staff must wear masks while indoors, 6-8th grade students must wear masks in their indoor classrooms, and all students must wear masks on the bus, in indoor common areas and hallways. Yet, because most time will be spent outdoors and because of the concern that daylong mask-wearing may hinder their educational experience, daily mask use is not required for K-5 students.
Six feet of social distancing will still be followed as much as possible both indoors and outdoors. And because of the small student body, the school is able to conduct daily temperature checks for students as well as staff.
Returning to school in-person isn’t the only option. 100 students chose to enroll in Kingsbury Online School while 280 returned to campus for the first day back Aug. 31.
Kingsbury is still accepting admissions. To learn more, contact the school at 928-628-2571 or email the enrollment director Audrey Smith-Dibble at email@example.com.
* * *
Similarly, Upland Hills School is holding class almost entirely outside this year.
Founded in 1971, the independent K-8 school surrounded by Upland Hills Farm located at 2575 Indian Lake Rd. has a long history of outdoor-based learning. Even before the pandemic, the school’s 90 students spent roughly half their day outside.
“We see this year as an opportunity to take it further and create learning spaces throughout campus that will allow our teachers and students to safely be outdoors all day,” said the school’s director, Rob Himburg. “In this year of COVID-19, the ability to be outdoors and safely distance is one of the single most important risk mitigation strategies we can employ.”
Each outdoor class space has a four-season tent, which can be heated in winter. Each student will also have their own personal tent as a private study space. “It’s a way that we can keep them safe and give them that sense of comfort and security that they need at the moment and still focus on academic learning,” explained teacher Robert Crowe.
Like Kingsbury, they will have plenty of room to social distance, but outdoor mask use is optional.
Classes began Aug. 17. At the top of parents’ back-to-school shopping list: bug spray.