In response to the ever-changing challenges that schools have faced for the past year, Desert View Learning Center in Paradise Valley came up with a unique way to safely teach in-person students.
“When the pandemic hit, the teachers were the first to recognize how wonderful it would be to pivot instruction to a full outdoor model,” Taylor Nelson, interim director at Desert View, said. “With a great deal of dedication and teamwork, the teachers masterminded the plan, and the community helped bring their vision to life.”
Nelson said the students at Desert View already had a learning curriculum that incorporated the school’s desert landscape, so the transition wasn’t drastic.
To make the outdoor classroom a reality, teachers worked with the school’s task force to ensure all necessary safety protocols were in place. The school’s board agreed to the initiative, and they provided Desert View all the additional equipment needed for a safe learning environment.
“We made a great effort to survey and communicate regularly with our families to understand how we could best meet the needs of the community,” Nelson said. “The staff, the board and the task force worked together to make sure all aspects of our new approach were funded and executed speedily.”
The outdoor classroom spaces are filled with familiar classroom furniture like desks and chairs, but new items, such as large mats, cones, tents and whiteboards were added. They also added extra outdoor sinks and hand sanitizer dispensers around the campus.
Every teacher is equipped with an iPad, tripod and voice amplifier that allows them to teach effectively – for students attending in-person and virtually.
According to Nelson, the students, parents and staff believe the new environment is having a positive impact on students.
“The kids are so happy they get to see their friends and teachers, even at a distance, and are quite happy to be able to have school in the fresh air, under blue skies, with the desert at their fingertips,” Nelson said.
This new outdoor classroom is not without its challenges. The cold mornings, windy days and even the Valley’s recent “snow day” challenged the new learning environment.
“Being in our ‘school without walls’ was tricky at first,” Nelson said. “The teachers have been so impressed with the students’ ability to adapt to their new environment, maintain focus outside, and block out the activities of the other classes.”
The extra room and the view have proven to be an essential and necessary resource for the school. They plan on continuing the outdoor classrooms until the end of the year with an option to keep it after everything settles down.
“We feel so fortunate that the hardship of COVID-19 was able to bring us the silver lining of creating this outdoor classroom model,” Nelson said. “Kids grow and learn so much when their surroundings inspire them.”