Outdoor learning begins at Friends Academy

September 11, 2020

Article by Chris Shea | Dartmouth Week | Sept. 11, 2020

School is officially back in session at Friends Academy — outside.

The outdoors has always been a part of daily life at Friends Academy, with its forest trails and a regularly tended garden. But this year, the school has stretched the use of its campus to create learning environments that better allow for social distancing.

“We have the space to be outdoors, so why not use it?” school spokesperson Alicia Porter said.

Ahead of its Sept. 8 reopening, the school constructed three covered outdoor spaces to be used in inclement weather, while staff and volunteers built weather-resistant standing teachers’ desks and chalkboards.

Students are even working on projects to bolster their new spaces, with one class creating sandbags to keep the newly constructed equipment weighed down during any potential storms.

Not all parts of the campus will be utilized, Porter said. Due to the potential risk of EEE, all outdoor activities will be limited to the upper campus and athletic fields away from the woods until the first hard frost.

“Oddly enough, when things get colder the campus will open up more,” she said.

In order to mitigate risk and decrease the chance of contact, the school treats each grade as a static “pod” of students with 3-5 teachers assigned to them.

Pods are kept physically separate from one another inside as well as outdoors and students within each pod will interact socially within their grade level.

So far, Porter said, students have “done great” in adhering to the school’s new safety protocols, and no one has reported sick.

If anyone does test positive for the virus, Porter noted that the rest of their pod would quarantine for two weeks and would continue with remote learning for that time.

Around campus on Friday, students of all ages could be seen keeping their space from others, wearing masks, and walking up and down hills to get to their grade’s designated lunch area.

“I have a feeling we’re sending some pretty tired kids home,” Porter laughed. “I’m sure the parents appreciate it.”

Porter said there is still some tweaking that has to be done as the school year goes on, but after a couple days of in-person learning, “it feels really good to have everyone back.”

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