Big outdoor learning win for students in Las Cruces

Fifth-grade student puts the finishing touches on her outdoor classroom prototype

Environmental Education of New Mexico (EENM) was thrilled to join our partner, Wild Friends, for a very special presentation at Monte Vista Elementary School in Las Cruces. On October 20, 2021, Robbi Berry’s fifth-grade students presented their outdoor classroom prototypes to NM Public Education Department (NMPED) Deputy Secretary Perea Warniment, Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) Superintendent Ramos, and several other supportive district staff members. Last school year, Ms. Berry and her students worked with Wild Friends, EENM, and Senator Correa Hemphill (Sponsor) to draft Senate Memorial 1, Task Force to Promote Outdoor Classroom, and to help secure the passage of the memorial by the NM Legislature. EENM featured Ms. Berry and her students in our recently released New Mexico Outdoor Classrooms: A Collection of Case Studies. During today’s event, Ms. Berry’s students presented their outstanding outdoor classroom designs to educational leaders, and then Superintendent Ramos made a very exciting announcement: LCPS will support outdoor learning across the entire district!

Over the last two weeks, fifth-grade students worked individually or in teams to complete an outdoor classroom prototype, which included a design and a list of specific materials that they would like to incorporate, complete with dimensions and cost estimates.

Audience members enjoy student presentations, from left to right: Las Cruces Sun News Reporter, Miranda Cyr, Deputy Secretary, Gwen Perea Warniment, Teacher, Robbi Berry, and LCPS Superintendent, Ralph Ramos.

During their presentations, each student or team explained their well-researched design. Students incorporated many excellent elements for learning into their designs. Most commonly, learners included shade structures, seating, a whiteboard or chalkboard, storage for teaching supplies, and access to drinking water. Seating options ranged from traditional ideas, such as picnic tables and chairs, to lower cost and simpler solutions, like logs and stumps. Several students stated that they would like to see some sort of water feature, like a pond, for studying microorganisms, aquatic plants, and fish. One group said that they’d like to add solar panels to their outdoor classroom to supply electricity.

Students also discussed the benefits of outdoor learning, which included relieving stress, getting fresh air, improving health, and earning higher grades. In their presentations, many learners included the reasons they wanted an outdoor classroom at their school and how they would benefit. The education leaders in attendance listened attentively and asked very thoughtful questions of the students.

After students delivered their presentations, Superintendent Ramos announced that he was so impressed by the students and their designs that he decided not only to designate funding for outdoor learning spaces at Monte Vista Elementary but to allocate funding for an outdoor learning program for the entire LCPS district! Mr. Ramos pledged an estimated $250,000 to support outdoor learning throughout the district.

EENM developed Outdoor Learning Guidance last year, which was adopted by NMPED to support outdoor classrooms and learning at schools like the soon-to-be-constructed spaces at Monte Vista Elementary and throughout LCPS! Also, thanks to the investment of our members, EENM hosts outdoorlearningnm.org to provide resources and supports for teachers, administrators, and families, including three excellent outdoor learning webinars.

EENM applauds Superintendent Ramos for how he listened to students and supported their request by providing them with the resources to carry out their ideas. We’re excited to see LCPS serve as a model for prioritizing outdoor learning for all students. Thank you, Ms. Berry, “Berry Bunch” students, Superintendent Ramos, Deputy Secretary Perea Warniment, Monte Vista Principal De Anna Balderrama, and LCPS staff for your vision in creating this groundbreaking opportunity for healthy outdoor learning for Las Cruces students!

Read more:

A student presents her outdoor classroom prototype to NMPED and LCPS leaders
Education leaders and Ms. Berry’s students pose for a photo outdoors
Stephanie Haan-Amato of EENM and Allyson Wiley of Wild Friends sport big smiles behind their masks in reaction to today’s events