How to create outdoor classrooms: Maximize use of schoolyards to get in-person teaching to as many students as possible

Of all the data points that the New York City Department of Education could be crunching as they prepare to re-open schools this fall, one number has received almost no attention: 29.5 million. That’s the combined square footage of the city’s outdoor schoolyards — space connected to our schools that can be repurposed into class and programming space to help keep our kids safe and out of doors this fall as much as possible.

Parents and educators alike agree on the wisdom of moving as many classes as possible outdoors. The science is clear: The potential for transmitting the virus is drastically lower outside. And outdoor learning has long been recognized as a creative, hands-on way of helping children learn while engaging in the environment around them. We should be seizing every opportunity to get our kids outside and away from the deadening computer screens that have been their only classrooms since March.

There is no excuse for failing to take full advantage of our schoolyards. The DOE’s own data indicates that its 29.5 million square feet of outdoor yard and physical education space encompasses 1,575 school buildings in all five boroughs. Of that space, 8.2 million square feet are in Brooklyn, 7.1 million is in Queens, 7.3 million is in the Bronx, 3.3 million is in Staten Island and 3.5 million is in Manhattan. These are spaces that the city controls and that are literally connected to our schools, which would allow students to stay outside but still maintain easy access to bathrooms, handwashing stations and cafeterias.

 

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