Sign the Letter: Support Outdoor Classrooms and Outdoor Learning

Deadline: please sign by Friday October 8, 2021

Dear Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Public Education Department (via Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus), and New Mexico Legislators (via Legislative Education Study Committee Chair Senator William Soules),

We, the undersigned New Mexican students, parents, guardians, family members, teachers, superintendents, education professionals, organizations, and community members urge you to prioritize the $12.2 million dollar STATEWIDE OUTDOOR CLASSROOMS: Design, Build, Learn initiative (originally shared with the New Mexico Public Education Department in May 2021). The cost is approximately 1% of the education funding allocated for New Mexico as part of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act.

Outdoor classrooms provide a bipartisan, common sense solution to support healthier kids, schools, and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many credible entities including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the New Mexico Public Education Department (through the 2021-2022 Back to School Guidance) state that outdoor classrooms provide a healthier alternative for all of our students, teachers, and local communities. Outdoor classrooms allow teaching and learning to occur in the open air, which is proven to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

STATEWIDE OUTDOOR CLASSROOMS
DESIGN, BUILD, LEARN

Research shows when we support kids in daily outdoor experiences through outdoor classrooms, they are healthier and gain the knowledge, skills, and ongoing curiosity to innovate solutions to social and environmental problems.1 

The need for outdoor learning has never been more evident than during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Statewide support for outdoor classrooms is at an all-time high, as evidenced by Senate Memorial 1 (Sen. Correa Hemphill), passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the 2021 New Mexico State Legislative session.

By establishing outdoor classrooms on school grounds across New Mexico, we can support students in outdoor learning during the school day while providing outdoor spaces that families and communities can use outside of school hours to immediately address health and park inequities.

Benefits of Outdoor Classrooms:
• Improved physical, emotional, social, and spiritual 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 to learn

What Are the Components?
DESIGN: Outdoor learning spaces can take many forms and can be tailored to fit the needs of each individual school and community. It is critical to include students, teachers, administrators, school staff, parents/guardians, and community members in the design of these spaces. Design should include plans for maintenance. 

BUILD: Outdoor classrooms are a very low-cost solution ($2,000-10,000 per school) to improving the quality of education in our state. New Mexico teachers have identified two main priorities in building outdoor classrooms: shade (through native plantings or shade sails) and seating.

LEARN: Teachers and staff need to be supported with training, standards-aligned activities, and Outdoor Learning Coordinator assistance to incorporate evidence-based outdoor learning into their instruction.

How?
• An Outdoor Classroom at every New Mexico Public School. Cost: one-time expenditure of $7 million (877 schools at an average cost of $8,000/school)

Outdoor Learning Coordinators spread throughout the state can greatly aid in the design, implementation, and use of outdoor classrooms. Cost: $5 million annually (98 coordinators at $50,000/coordinator to be housed at nonprofits, RECs, districts, etc. and Outdoor Learning Specialist at NMPED)

• An Outdoor Learning Micro-credentialing Program: Use outdoor learning as a pilot for micro-credentialing, NM PED works with EENM on establishing content (e.g., standards-aligned outdoor learning, social and emotional learning in the outdoors, culturally responsive outdoor learning, risk management in the outdoors). Cost: $200,000  

1Nicole M. Ardoin, Alison W. Bowers, Noelle Wyman Roth & Nicole Holthuis (2018) Environmental education and K-12 student outcomes: A review and analysis of research, The Journal of Environmental Education, 49:1, 1-17, DOI: 10.1080/00958964.2017.1366155