Vt. Schools Set to Open Outdoor Classrooms as COVID-19 Safety Measure

The move will allow for greater physical distancing, school administrators explained

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Many Vermont educators, at both public and private schools, will be encouraging physical distancing when classes resume in September, by taking their lessons outdoors whenever possible.

"I think it's going to be exciting," said Lilly Irons, a fifth-grader at Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Shelburne.

Irons' school is set to start in-person five days a week this fall, mostly outdoors.

"During COVID, we've been staying inside more often, and this is going to be a really fun way to learn a bit more and get back to nature," said Natalie Olson, another Lake Champlain Waldorf School fifth-grader.

Teachers will use an existing outdoor amphitheater as a physically distant classroom to keep the chances for viral transmission low or take lessons to a wooded area using rugged benches that convert to desks.

Come colder months, portable heaters and rechargeable warming pads will be in use, the school explained. Class sizes will be kept small so when indoor learning picks back up, spaces won't be crowded, administrators added.

"This is not what any of us expected, but we're trying to use all of our creativity and ingenuity," said Amy Brennan of the Lake Champlain Waldorf School.

In South Burlington, the city's public schools have tents with roll-down sides set up outdoors, at least through early November.

Holly Rouelle, the principal at South Burlington's Gertrude E. Chamberlin School, said the pandemic means her students will be learning in-person two days and at home three.

Rouelle said the school's WiFi strength has been boosted to reach the new outdoor classrooms under the tent and in other areas being set up outside.

"It's a challenge, but [we're] trying to think about this as every challenge is an opportunity," the Chamberlin principal told NECN and NBC10 Boston. "So how can this make us think about education in a different way?"

At the private, independent Schoolhouse, also in South Burlington, the coronavirus had administrators installing outdoor sinks to promote handwashing for kids learning in the yard.

Head of School Liz Shayne said she hopes spacing students farther apart can keep them at school in-person five days a week. Teachers will divide classes and rotate groups indoors and out.

"So if half the class is outside, the rest of that class can be distant," Shayne explained. It still takes disinfecting and doing all the things you have to do."

These and other Vermont educators are reaching for an A+ in flexibility, by making the outdoors no longer just a place for recess.

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