Update on Outdoor Classrooms and Outdoor Learning for the 2021-2022 School Year

August 19, 2021

Dear Outdoor and Environmental Education Community,

The need for outdoor learning has never been more evident, and outdoor classrooms provide a bi-partisan, common sense solution to support healthier kids, schools, and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of the Governor’s announcement this week of increasing mandates and precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we are reaching out to bring attention to the resources and support we provide to bring outdoor learning to all New Mexico students now and in the future! Please read on to learn more about what has already been going on and how you can get involved today and in the coming weeks.

Environmental Education of NM (EENM) is 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. Annually, EENM supports a network of over 160 organizations serving 280,000+ New Mexican students (preK-12th grade) including teachers, educators, parents, and unlikely allies in related fields like outdoor recreation, education, local food, conservation, and environmental justice.

Since March 2020, EENM has hosted more than 35 online community events to support educators, teachers, program managers, and parents in sharing their challenges and successes during the COVID crisis, including through the use of outdoor classrooms. These events included community check-ins, professional development workshops to help teachers and educators adapt to distance learning, a tri-state virtual summit with our counterparts in Colorado and Maine titled Shifting Towards Equity: Community Visioning for Outdoor and Environmental Learning During and After COVID-19, webinars on outdoor learning, and other events. 

In early August 2020, we made our first call to action for decision makers to invest in outdoor classrooms to provide a safer alternative to school reentry in response to COVID-19. EENM has been steadfast in delivering the message that 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.

In fall 2020, along with our broad community, 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. 

Outdoorlearningnm.org offers a new level of support as a clearinghouse for local contacts, activity resources from local community based organizations, access to tips, resources, and  guidelines, and  including a webinar series on outdoor learning for parents and teachers including the following topics: 

·       Social and Emotional Learning in the Outdoors

·       Standards-aligned Outdoor Learning

·       Cultural Responsiveness in Outdoor Learning

In January 2021, along with the EENM Fellows, we released Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way: A multi-year shared vision and strategy to provide daily equitable access to the outdoors and environmental learning for all New Mexico kids. This shared vision and strategy, the first of its kind in the country, provides a framework for systemic change to support equitable daily access to the outdoors and environmental learning in New Mexico. As part of the release of this shared strategy and to address one of the policy needs identified, we partnered with Wild Friends, a student-led advocacy group, on the successful bi-partisan passage of Senate Memorial 1, in early March 2021. 

Senate Memorial 1 established an interagency task force to explore how to expand outdoor classrooms and asked the Governor to declare an Outdoor Learning Day. We are excited to share that EENM was asked to facilitate the Outdoor Classrooms Interagency Task Force, and we hosted the first meeting in July 2021. We began sharing the incredible knowledge, experience, and ideas you all provided during many years of community gatherings, including the ones we hosted about outdoor classrooms on May 13th and June 10th.

In May 2021, in partnership with Wild Friends and Senator Siah Correa Hemphill, we met with the New Mexico Public Education Department with a request to allocate  $12 million of federal stimulus funds (~1% of the education funding allocated for New Mexico as part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund). This request includes three policy asks directly from Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way. We shared this with our community during the June 3rd listening session about how New Mexico can use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. We hosted the listening session with the New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network, and it featured special guests Lt. Governor Howie Morales, Senator Siah Correa Hemphill (State Senate District 28), Katarina Sandoval, Ed.M. (NMPED Deputy Secretary of Academic Engagement, and Gwen Perea Warniment, Ph.D. (NMPED Deputy Secretary of Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Student Success).

What’s next?

At EENM, we hear the call from youth, parents, families, teachers, and others for the need for the New Mexico Public Education Department and Local Education Agencies to prioritize investing in outdoor classrooms, outdoor learning coordinators, and professional learning for teachers today! We also believe that New Mexico is the most ready state in the country right now to adopt outdoor learning at scale. 

We are excited to share that Governor Lujan Grisham has expressed support for outdoor learning by declaring not only an Outdoor Learning Day (September 29), but also an Outdoor Learning Week (September 27-October 1) from Senate Memorial 1! Behind the scenes, our Leadership Team has been preparing for another big push for outdoor classrooms and exploring a variety of actions and supports to launch during Outdoor Learning Week. We will be ready to share more and how you can get involved at the September 9th Community Gathering and encourage you to save your virtual seat today by clicking here

In the meantime, please explore the resources shared above, and share this information with your networks. We’d like to express our heartfelt thanks to all of you for the engagement, participation, and incredible problem solving you all have demonstrated as valued members of our community! None of this work would be possible without all of you. We also want to give a special shout out to all of our amazing EENM Fellows and Leadership Team for their steadfast efforts, during the last 18 months in particular.

With gratitude,

Eileen Everett (EENM Executive Director), Stephanie Haan-Amato (EENM Communications and Development Director), and Tallie Segel (EENM Director of Strategy)