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Upper School math teacher Adele Dominicus has her students exploring the campus to take photos of how basic geometric concepts are hidden within everyday objects and in nature. The photos will be marked up to identify the shapes and concepts and turned into picture books to teach the school’s preschool students. Students in Anthony Larson’s technology and digital arts class are learning about digital photography and roaming the campus for inspiration. Mr. Rand’s 8th grade science students are determining the circumference of the Earth by replicating the same procedure that Erastophenes used over 2000 years ago, using angles of shadows, ratios, and the Sun to determine the circumference. “I find myself continually challenged to think of new ways to connect and integrate the outdoors into my curriculum,” comments Rand.

During the summer, the Academy made enhancements to its campus spaces and purchased a variety of seating options to facilitate outdoor learning such as the installation of stone seating on hillsides, the placement of shade tents around campus, and the purchase of Adirondack chairs. Younger children enjoy transportable seating options for class on the grass and older students have traded in their usual classroom seating for yoga mats.

Faculty members, under the guidance of the school’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, have expanded learning opportunities for students by connecting curriculum to the school’s 42-acres of fields, an outdoor classroom, a newly refurbished turf athletic field, and myriad outdoor spaces. Lesson plans were reimagined over the busy summer months to accommodate at-home learners and utilize the school’s natural spaces. Choral director Debbi Curry was concerned about the limitations COVID has put on singing in closed spaces but found the outdoor classroom was the perfect solution. “Holding chorus class outside allows us to continue to build our vocal skills and practice safe singing while enjoying the great weather and inspiring view,” comments Curry.

Initial feedback from students is “two thumbs up.” Faculty find the students are enjoying the fresh air and opportunities to take a much-needed mask break. “It is amazing to be outside so much,” says 7th grade student Sam. “It makes the day so much more enjoyable! We are learning - just in different ways.” “Let’s take it outside!” third grade teacher Samantha Heller announces to her class after they wrap-up their morning meeting activities. Students grab their brightly-colored plastic bucket seats and class materials and quickly gather at the classroom door. Moments later class resumes on a grassy patch outside the building with children comfortably rocking in their portable seats.

There is an added benefit to taking class outside: improved mental health. School counselor Terry Williams comments, “It is a real advantage for students that teachers at RA can provide them with space by taking their classroom outside. We are fortunate to have many areas that provide ideal spots for learning. Being outdoors is good for a child's emotional and mental well-being, especially during this challenging time when there are so many restrictions and a need for isolation.”