El Cerrito school serves as a model for outdoor learning amid COVID-19

It's a not a classroom of the future, but one operating now at the local non-profit school that's serving as a model for the Bay Area and beyond.
EL CERRITO, Calif. (KGO) -- At the Golestan School in El Cerrito, there are no prefab plastic play structures. It's a place where the playground is made up mostly of natural features and specially-designed tree stumps serve as outdoor desks.

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It's a not a classroom of the future, but one operating now at the small non-profit school that's serving as a model for the Bay Area and beyond.

"We're trying to help schools think about outdoor learning as the new plan A," said Sharon Danks, executive director of Green Schoolyards America, now partnering with the Lawrence Hall of Science, Ten Strands and the San Mateo County Department of Education to create the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.

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"Instead of coming back online or inside, we're trying to help them think about how they can be outside as a first priority," explained Danks.

At the Golestan School, younger students are in classrooms designed to be as much outdoor as indoor, while older elementary-aged kids spend their day almost entirely outside.

"Number one priority for us was to create a protocol that prioritizes the safety of teachers first and then by default, the children are safe as well," said Yalda Modabber, executive director of the Golestan School. "We've been bringing in districts in working groups of 12 or less, for them to see firsthand what this can look like."

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Bay Area designers are donating their services to help expand the outdoor initiative to many other schools, private and public.

"In the past, we've been able to design outdoor classroom spaces with maybe an assembly space or a breakout zone from individual classrooms, but this is the first time we've had to consider social distancing," explained volunteer designer Casey Case with San Ramon-based Gates & Associates Landscape Architecture.

Much of what was set up at the Golestan School outside was originally thought to be temporary, meant to deal with the pandemic, but the hope is it will become a permanent part of the future.

"We're hoping that schools who are coming outside right now will feel so comfortable, that they'll want to stay," said Danks.

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Of course, part of the challenge will be adapting to changes in the weather, but with additional outdoor coverings and proper clothing for the students and teachers, the hope is that outside will remain plan A.

To learn more about the classroom model, click here.

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