CLAREMONT – Principals of the three elementary schools are pushing for more outdoor education, while some parents are working to bring back winter programs.
At Wednesday night's school board meeting, principals Dale Chenette (Bluff Elementary), Melissa Lewis (Disnard) and Kathleen Bunnell (Maple) gave a short presentation on their efforts to integrate more outdoor education into the curriculum.
“We all know we have way too many kids spending too much time inside,” said Bunnell. “We have a real push for outdoor education. Tomorrow all our teachers will receive special training for outdoor education.”
Bunnell said her school is looking into making recess longer.
Chenette said that in another school, “We had Forest Fridays and we saw behaviors go way down on those days.”
“We see this as one more tool in our teachers' toolkits,” said Lewis. “To get kids excited about learning and teach them learning can happen anywhere.”
Third grade teacher Lisa Holtz has been taking her students outdoors since 2014. She shared pictures of her students in Moody Park. “We pause and stop and observe the world around us,” she said. “We do outdoor learning throughout the year. We're writing, we're reading, we're snacking, we're noticing — we're sitting by a campfire there.
“We learned about trees and lichen this year,” said Holtz. “The students got really good at identifying the three types of lichen.”
Spending time outdoors is now known to promote social and emotional health as well as physical health. Holtz also shared the students' comments on how learning outdoors affects them:
“The fresh air helps me focus.” “It helps us learn more physically than on the computer inside.” “Instead of bad air it's actually breathing good air.” “It helps me learn to do science when the breeze is going.” “It helps me learn how a stream works.” “Having fun outside helps me learn math.” “I learn when the birds are chirping.” “You get to learn things outside and you can feel them, touch them and smell them.”
Michelle Beaton and some other parents proposed a 5-6 week winter program, with possible activities to include snowshoeing, iceskating, skiing and possibly swimming.
Beaton said such a program promotes a better connection to the community for the kids, and makes it more likely they'll stay here after they graduate. “A vibrant winter program also makes it a more attractive place for parents looking at moving to the Claremont community,” she said.
The parents have met with Parks and Recreation Director Mark Brislin about collaborating with the Claremont Savings Bank Community Center to host activities.
“There's still a lot of work to do,” said Beaton.
“The teachers are embracing this as well,” said third-grade teacher Ellen Feleen. “We're all about standards and there are several speaking and listening standards this targets, as well — all of those skills like following directions, listening — some of our students learn at home and frankly others don't. It opens up a whole new world for so many of our kiddos. I'm really excited about it and I think it fits really well with outdoor programming.”
Acting Superintendent Cory LeClair told the board that outdoor learning doesn't require their approval, but the winter program does.
“I expect the cost of this would be nil, at least for the first year,” said LeClair. “They are seeking grants to help get this program off the ground and make it sustainable.”
Board member Carolyn Towle asked what would be the effect on the district's liability insurance.
LeClair said the district had recently had a conference call with their liability insurance provider, Primex. “Primex is going to be coming out and looking at potential risks,” she said. “Other districts do it. It would be no different from a field trip.”
Board member Rob Lovette made a motion to give the winter programming the full support of the board, which was voted in unanimously.
The board voted to accept a three-year contract with Primex that caps possible increases in the district's premiums at 7 percent. The three years would be 2021, 2022 and 2023. In the past premiums have jumped by as much as 16 percent.
LeClair explained the cap only affects increases, so if the district's premiums decreased 16 percent they would get the whole decrease.