The Environmental Educators of North Carolina write this open letter to assert that the need for environmental and outdoor learning has never been greater. We urge you to bring environmental education to the forefront to support the resilience of North Carolina’s school systems in addressing the impacts of COVID-19.
Environmental education is a process that helps people learn more about the natural systems we all depend on, and understand what we must do to interact responsibly with our environment and safeguard natural resources for future generations. Across all age groups, greater access to the outdoors is associated with reduced stress and greater mental health and well-being. As we look to improve the health and well-being of our children, we need to advocate for guidance that brings safe access to outdoor learning to all communities.
School closures and the sudden shift to online learning has brought to light great inequities in education. Schools with more resources have been able to keep students on track, while those serving families who may lack computer or internet access have stumbled. Behavioral experts suggest that the COVID-19 disruptions will cause at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) per student. As we look to address these discrepancies through educational investments and policies, the potential for outdoor and environmental learning must be part of the conversation. The outdoors is a resource for learning, engagement and health, and it should be available to all. In addition, there is growing research indicating coronavirus transmission is reduced in outdoor environments.
During the present coronavirus emergency, it has become clear that it is paramount for our society to address and proactively deal with the global challenges we are confronting. COVID-19 is a serious threat to human well-being, but it is related to other environmental challenges (climate change, biodiversity) and we must understand and address them as well.
Community-based environmental and outdoor education programs can and should be essential partners in supporting schools and families as we head into the upcoming school year.
Environmental and outdoor learning will not only enable us to create healthier, more civically engaged and sustainable communities, it can help solve some of the many issues that school districts across the state are facing including lack of space required for physical distancing, supporting gaps in instruction, and supporting students mental and physical health.
We present the attached guidance for school districts across the state to consider when creating plans for re-opening. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and school districts across the state to deploy the resources and support of environmental and outdoor learning providers throughout the state to support the resiliency of school districts. We are available upon request for consultation and solution-driven planning. The guidance (available at www.eenc.org/eeGuidance or https://eenc.org/resources/Documents/eeGuidance%20For%20Reopening%20Schools,%20EENC.pdf) is only a start to what we might accomplish by co-creating solutions together.
The COVID-19 virus pandemic has changed the landscape for almost every decision that we make going forward. We believe that we cannot afford to return to the same “normal” from before this pandemic and urge you to promote and support EE and environmental literacy among all North Carolinians.
Lauren Pyle, Executive Director
Amy Renfranz, Board President