This My View op-ed was published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on August 28, 2021. View it online, or read the full text here. It was then published in the Albuquerque Journal on September 6, 2021. View it online, or read the full text here.
We at Environmental Education of New Mexico (EENM) and the Wild Friends program couldn’t agree more with the words of outgoing Education Secretary Ryan Stewart about the need for outdoor classrooms (Aug. 22). The necessity of outdoor learning has never been more evident, and outdoor classrooms provide a bipartisan, common sense solution to support healthier kids, schools, and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic!
EENM and Wild Friends partnered during the 2021 Legislative Session to support the successful bipartisan passage of Senate Memorial 1 (Sponsor Senator Siah Correa Hemphill) in support of outdoor classrooms. Wild Friends students, through their award-winning civics education program at the UNM School of Law, drafted the memorial to create an Outdoor Classrooms Interagency Task Force (including the New Mexico Public Education Department) to establish and expand outdoor classrooms across the state. EENM offered expertise and support as the only statewide organization that advances advocacy, collaboration and leadership to ensure that every New Mexico child has daily equitable access to the outdoors and environmental learning.
Investing in outdoor classrooms today will provide a healthier alternative to allow teaching and learning to occur in the open air, which reduces the transmission of COVID-19, for all of our students, teachers, and local communities. Outdoor learning is an evidence-based approach directly in alignment with the New Mexico Public Education Department’s vision, “Students in New Mexico are engaged in a culturally and linguistically responsive educational system that meets the social, emotional, and academic needs of ALL students.” There are numerous documented benefits of outdoor learning including the following:
- Improved health and wellbeing
- Increased connections with community
- Interest in civic action
- Academic skills including critical thinking and problem solving
- Enhanced academic achievement
- Motivation and increased enthusiasm
Additionally, by establishing outdoor classrooms on school grounds across New Mexico, we can not only support students in outdoor learning during the school day but provide outdoor spaces that families and communities can use during non-school hours to immediately address the lack of access to parks and other open spaces in many neighborhoods around the state.
In fall 2020, along with our network of over 160 organizations serving 280,000+ New Mexican students (preK-12th grade), EENM drafted New Mexico’s state-wide Outdoor Learning Guidance that was adopted by the New Mexico Public Education Department as part of school reentry planning. We also launched the outdoorlearningnm.org website to provide resources and support for parents, families, teachers, and school administrators for outdoor learning and outdoor classrooms and have kept this updated to continue to support the overwhelming interest we have received in outdoor learning during this time.
We at EENM and Wild Friends are ready to work with the New Mexico Public Education Department to provide the experience and expertise to support successful outdoor classrooms and outdoor learning at scale! Learn more about how you can get involved by visiting eenm.org.
Eileen Everett, Executive Director, Environmental Education of New Mexico
Sue George, Director, Wild Friends, UNM School of Law