Embracing Outdoor Educational Teaching

A new Windows to the Wild airs Wednesday, November 18 at 7:30pm on NHPBS

(Durham, NH, November 16, 2020) On the day WINDOWS TO THE WILD host Willem Lange rolled into town, the morning sun erased most of the early autumn dew. He was in Thetford, Vermont, just over the border from Hanover, NH. Thetford Academy, he heard, was open for business, just when many other schools were thinking of closing due to COVID-19.

Willem, a former teacher of English, is always willing to visit a classroom and see how teaching has changed since his day in academia. Willem was invited to Vermont's first public school by Scott Ellis. Scott teaches outdoor education with an enthusiasm that's contagious.

“What we discovered at Thetford Academy is that we do a lot with the outdoors and outdoor air is safer and so we are really embracing this resource and getting kids outside,” says Ellis.

Once they pulled into the parking lot, the WINDOWS TO THE WILD crew noticed something interesting about the Academy: nearly all of the students were outdoors. Some sat under large tents with their laptops and books. Others moved along gravel pathways and vanished into the woods on their way to biology class. With decades of outdoor adventure and education on his resume, Scott Ellis was behind this approach to learning.

“Honestly, the mental health portion of this is as important as anything else. Not being isolated in your room at home, I see this as the piece that is most important,” says French teacher, Karen Heinzmann.

Scott helped spearhead the effort to get students out of the classroom and outside. The idea came to him as a way to reduce the risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus indoors from student to student to faculty. Other than the occasional distraction from migrating birds overhead, it seems as though the students like the idea.

“I think getting to go outside everyday is a great experience. I feel like normal school you are closed up and isolated to a certain space and I think being outside resolves that issue,” says student Jack Hasting.

Willem Lange spent the day at Thetford Academy. He hiked the trails with Scott, students and teachers and witnessed the teaching power of nature. As communities struggle to find ways to educate students, safely and responsibly, Scott's years of teaching outdoor education has taken on a new and important meaning.

“This is a brand new model and we’re testing out something that nobody has ever really done before. Teachers are working hard and this takes extra effort, this isn’t going back to your original curriculum, many teachers are becoming brand new teachers again,” says Ellis.

Watch this new episode of WINDOWS TO THE WILD on Wednesday, November 18th at 7:30pm on New Hampshire PBS and online anytime at nhbps.org/windows.


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WINDOWS TO THE WILD WITH WILLEM LANGE is generously supported by the Alice J. Reen Charitable Trust and the Bailey Charitable Foundation

Willem Lange’s wardrobe is generously donated by The Kittery Trading Post


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