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New report shows severe loss of capacity for outdoor and environmental science education

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New report shows severe loss of capacity for outdoor and environmental science education

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders have stressed the opportunity for families to get outside and learn more about their natural surroundings. The opportunities to observe migratory patterns of birds, grow fruits and vegetables at home or in community gardens, and simply learn more about the natural flora and fauna in your neighborhood have been starker since so many students and families were required to stay at home. But while many of us have found comfort or escape in the outdoors during these times, those responsible for leading education programs for children and families have experienced the severe financial impact of school closures and social distancing requirements.

A new report released by UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science shows just how devastating the pandemic has been on outdoor and environmental science education organizations. These organizations, often key partners to schools and out-of-school time organizations, have not been immune to stay-at-home orders from local and state governments. Survey responses from 1000 organizations show that 63% of those programs are uncertain about their ability to reopen following the pandemic. Additionally, by December 31, 2020: 

  • 11 million kids who would have been served by 1,000 organizations will have missed environmental and outdoor science learning opportunities. 60% of them are from communities of color or low income communities.
  • $600M in lost revenue from 1,000 organizations
  • 30,000 employees laid off or furloughed from 1,000 organizations
  • 30% of organizations nationally are highly unlikely to reopen
  • Over 1/3 of the outdoor education field (up to 65%) is likely to disappear, eroding a key component of the nation’s education infrastructure.

Like the afterschool field, outdoor education has the ability to be key partners in the way schools serve students when they can safely return to school. If we’re going to reimagine the way students learn, we can take lessons that outdoor educators have learned in how to best engage students and implement them into our education system. School districts can look to engage outdoor educators to work directly with schools to increase the capacity of the classroom by utilizing outdoor space, providing new learning environments that help students better understand how human actions contribute to climate change and sustainability, while contributing to positive cognitive/academic, dispositional, social-emotional, and health outcomes among participants.

The full report, with several recommendations for the outdoor education field, can be found here.

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