The Falmouth Outdoor Learning Project has become a leader for alternative schooling solutions in New England.
Located in Falmouth, Massachusetts, the Falmouth Outdoor Learning Committee, a subcommittee of the Rotary Club of Falmouth Cape Cod, formed as an effort between teachers, parents, and community members to provide students with outdoor learning opportunities to keep them engaged and safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Committee lead Amy Leonardi is passionate about the benefits of being outside and made it her mission to provide enriching outdoor educational experiences for the seven schools within Falmouth’s school district.
WHY FABRIC SHELTERS FOR OUTDOOR CLASSROOMS?
Leonardi and numerous parents in the community felt it was important for students to continue their learning in person during the pandemic, but only if it was safe. The committee didn’t consider remote schooling a sustainable, long-term solution. So Leonardi did some research.
At the start of the pandemic last February, Leonardi did a google image search of permanent and semi-permanent tents and discovered WeatherPort® Shelter Systems.
With WeatherPort, Leonardi and the rest of the committee found a solution to their growing concerns of distance learning and school closures. They currently have seven structures installed and in use, with six more on the way.
“Now we can focus on the professional development of our students,” Leondari states. “The amount of use you’re going to get day in and day out and during the school year is worth the money spent.”
BENEFITS OF OUTDOOR LEARNING
As a former teacher and mom herself, Leonardi believes in the importance of kids being outside — regardless of the pandemic. She noted that the benefits range from “helping your eyes to helping students with learning disabilities.”
Teachers, administration staff, and parents met weekly to discuss and plan how to make this a reality; considering the social and emotional health of students in the community while also acknowledging how outside stimulus improves focus for schoolwork.
“Place-based learning really has its benefits in terms of kids learning at a higher level. We’ve made children [stay] inside for a long period of time, but that’s not reality because real life isn’t like a school. I wanted to look at how to bring in community-based learning,” states Leonardi.
COMBATTING NEW ENGLAND WEATHER
Since Falmouth is located on the East Coast, weather and climate were an initial concern for the district. Finding a fabric structure that could safely accommodate their educational needs and withstand New England winters was important.
“We’re in New England, so we’re tough, but our winters are even tougher.”
Based on city and school regulations, the outdoor learning structures needed to handle winds of up to 120 mph and 30-pound snow loads. WeatherPort was able to match the task.
“The town actually waived all the permit fees because we are doing it through nonprofits to benefit the schools. It kind of speaks to the overall project in general — it was all hands in.”
Leonardi enjoyed the fact that WeatherPort’s fabric structures are insulated, virtually weatherproof, and durable to withstand extreme weather.
“That was the biggest requirement because we needed to be able to get the okay from the town of Falmouth. No one was going to be able to come close to what WeatherPort could do in terms of capabilities and price in a short amount of time,” says Leonardi.
THE ASSEMBLY AND INSTALLATION PROCESS
The first outdoor classroom structure took around four hours to assemble and install, while the others took consecutively less time. Leonardi plans on keeping the structures up year-round. They’ve been utilized for a range of activities outside of the school year, including outdoor meetings, and fundraisers.
“We haven’t even read how to disassemble them because I’m planning on them staying up.” explains Lenoardi.
The committee already has the structures set up for the next school year, “for whichever direction the pandemic goes.”
Leonardi emphasizes how desk arrangements, outdoor whiteboards, and positioning of the infrastructure help facilitate the curriculum for more well-rounded learning.
COMMUNITY COMES TOGETHER
The Falmouth Outdoor Learning Project is thrilled to offer children a safe and multipurpose solution to the challenges the pandemic has brought on over this past year and a half. And parents and school staff aren’t the only ones excited about outdoor learning as a solution to present challenges — the students are, too, even helping with the outdoor classroom setup.
“They’re getting experience volunteering and seeing a community come together for the benefit of them,” Leonardi adds.
The outdoor classroom structures have ultimately engaged everyone in the community as they’ve come together to create a plan that safely works for their town, taking supervision pressure off of parents who can’t work remotely, allowing teachers in-person access to their students for more well-rounded learning, and showing students that the community cares about their health, academic well-being, and overall personal development.
Falmouth is looking forward to even more equitable learning access and considers outdoor time an expectation for next school year.
“It’s been a pleasure working with WeatherPort,” Leonardi sums it up. “They just make it so simple!”
[Related: Temporary Structures to Help Reopen Schools]
For more information on WeatherPort or obtaining a fabric structure for an outdoor classroom or playground shelter, call us at +1-970-399-5909, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out our online form to request a quote.