It's outdoor learning for students at Delaware school

MIDDLETOWN, Delaware (WPVI) -- Beneath the bright sunshine.

Under the cool canopy.

Over the alphabet path.

The 125 acre campus is a classroom at Saint Anne's Episcopal School in Middletown.

"We got to go down to the lake. I actually found a clam," 6th grader Jordan Gray said.

Fourth grader Sandhya Viswanathan added, "You can learn more because you're outside, from all the animals and insects."

This reopening plan for pre-school through 8th grade is designed to maximize outdoor learning time.

Pre-kindergartners file along a wooded path into their outdoor classroom.

Long trees arc over the cavernous space. Tree stumps are arranged in a circle with a rain tarp directly above. Low hanging vines and singing cicadas make the space feel magical and a little mysterious, peaking students' curiosity about what hidden treasures they could discover together in the forest.

"There's something special about being under the canopy of the trees," remarked Director of Outdoor Education Kerry Wilson, who is also a Lower School STEM teacher.

Wilson explained, "The idea is to have the children completely immersed in nature. The sounds of nature- we can hear the cicadas calling right now."

The school still holds some classes indoors.

Class size is small enough, and the rooms have been fitted with safety precautions.

A fully remote option is also available.

Wilson told 6abc that even before the pandemic, there was a focus on nature, with eight outdoor classroom spaces. Now there are 21, which can be used in most weather, barring conditions like thunder and lightning.

"We were able to really pivot very quickly," Wilson recounted.

Wilson continued, "We've had students find frogs. (Last week), they were so excited about worms, and so it becomes an opportunity for exploration."

And they will explore through the seasons.

When winter comes, students will bundle up.

"Snow pants, warm coats, hats, gloves. We can be outside. We can still be learning," Wilson said.

School subjects weave through their surroundings.

Student Tania Khandelwal was carefully marking her paper. She stated, "We are making maps of the entire campus."

Educators watch the students' sense of stewardship toward their environment grow.

Sixth grader Hunter Skelton described, "So, in the outdoor classrooms, we're talking about our different standings on environmental problems."

Like all schools, they will stay flexible. Educators will continue to examine the curriculum and see where they can make connections to the space around them.

Wilson supplied, "Pollinator meadows connects to life cycles of the bee. We have a bird plot area, and we do a bluebirds study."

Head of School Barry Davis emphasized, "We're not sacrificing education."

Davis added, "Being outside- you can still teach about empathy. You can still teach about climate. You can still teach about the importance of relationship building."

With each other and with the land around them.
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