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With COVID-19 transmission risk lower outside, some Sudbury schools turn to outdoor classrooms

R.L. Beattie science teacher Emilia Corsi using new outdoor classroom for almost every class, and she said that won’t even change in winter

With the risk of COVID-19 transmission considered much lower outside, several local schools have taken to holding some classes in the great outdoors, where students can take a break from wearing masks and enjoy the benefit of fresh air.

An example is R.L. Beattie Public School, which has a brand-new outdoor classroom that was installed about three weeks ago by the school board.

The board said several of its other schools also have outdoor classrooms, including Lansdowne Public School, R.H. Murray Public School, Walden Public School and Alexander Public School.

Beattie’s outdoor classroom involves logs and stumps students use as chairs and tables, as well as a big outdoor blackboard.

Outdoor classrooms in Rainbow board schools take many forms, from logs to benches to stone seating to habitats to gardens to vast expanses of greenspaces where students enjoy education and recreation, said the board.

“We are just really feeling fortunate to be back at school and really happy to have this great learning space outside to learn in,” said Beattie’s principal, Kelly McCauley.

“Our kids are really happy to be back, and they really do love this space. The response has been excellent — really, really great.”

She said it’s a great place for the kids to take a break from wearing their masks. “What science is telling us is we’re safer outside without our masks than inside,” McCauley said.

The school’s science teacher, Emilia Corsi, has been using the outdoor classroom for almost all of her classes, dressing for the elements in hiking boots, a coat, hat, scarf and mitts.

She said teaching outdoors lends well to her lessons — right now, she’s teaching about life systems. 

It’s great to be learning about the food chain when there are worms crawling around underfoot, gulls and chickadees flying around, and even a fox den in the wooded area near the school.

The kids are really enthusiastic about science class now because learning outdoors has introduced a new experience into their day.

“It’s amazing, I love it,” Corsi said. “I’ve been teaching science for many years now, and I’ve always done my classes outside in all kinds of weather.

“Now we actually have a place where we can sit and have a recap of what we’re learning with a chalkboard and write things down. It’s amazing.”

As we all know, the cold season is coming soon, but Corsi said she’s not going to let that stop her from using the outdoor classroom. The kids will be encouraged to dress warmly, and they’ll just stay outside for a shorter period of time if it’s really cold.

“But we’ll definitely still hike out there,” he said. “It’s at the back of the school property, so they’ll be warm by the time we get there.”

Beattie student Zoe Gatien, 8, said she loves the outdoor classroom. She said her classmates also say they wish they could learn out there all the time.

“I like that it’s in the fresh air, especially in the fall, because there’s leaves falling, and it’s really pretty,” she said.