A fourth grade teacher has built an outdoor classroom as her students return to in-person learning during the pandemic.
With help from her family, Lindsey Earle, of Prairie Hill Waldorf School in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, built a structure for the 13 students in her class.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says outdoor spaces are less risky when it comes to the spread of COVID-19. It may be more difficult to keep people apart indoors, and there's less ventilation. The CDC recommends keeping six feet of space between you and others.
Earle's classroom sits on school property. It's a 12-sided figure with a tented roof, a chalkboard and canvas chairs with desktops made from outdoor sign boards. Desks are socially distanced based on CDC guidelines, and children must wear their masks when engaging in one-on-one instruction, or leaving their seats.
The dome-shaped room is 9 feet in length. Earle said she cut wood herself, but her husband, Brian Earle and their two sons, ages 9 and 5, had a hand in the building process.
Now, every class is currently building an outdoor learning space at the school. Volunteers with basic construction skills are assisting. Even some students helped, giving them a "sense of pride," Earle said.
"We were hopeful that putting this in place would allow us to come back and stay safe and healthy," Earle said, adding that she and her school administration met with health and safety experts while executing. "With their help and advice I think we had a real robust, return-to-school plan."
Prairie Hill Waldorf's administrator Jeanne Ring said the school made the decision to hold on-campus classes for the 2020-21 school year because it believes that being on campus is the best place for the students to learn.
"In order to meet this goal, our community came together this past summer to create these spaces, build desks and make the environment learning friendly," Ring told "GMA." "The faculty is committed to spending as much time as possible outside and the children are excited and eager to do this. It's a beautiful thing to see our 14 acres being utilized all day by faculty and students. We have a saying in Waldorf education, 'there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.'"
In a statement posted to its website, the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote that it "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school."
The AAP stressed the importance of school in children's lives.
"Schools and school-supported programs are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, either in person or virtually; social and emotional skills; safety; reliable nutrition; physical/speech therapy and mental health services; and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits," the AAP said. "Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity."
Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist with The Child Mind Institute, said teachers have been given the autonomy to create safer learning spaces amid COVID-19.
"No situation without fully online learning is without risk," Anderson noted. "It's a trade-off for mental health ... the fact that this is an outdoor classroom, it's still really wonderful for social development."
"What we know is online education is a poor substitution for socialization, and a poor substitute for in-person learning," he added.
Earle said she's received positive feedback from parents regarding her return-to-learn alternative, and the kids are thrilled to reconnect with teachers and friends.