Education Outside: Instilling a Love of the Outdoors in Children

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School gardens and outdoor classrooms have been popping up all over the Bay Area, with the idea of getting kids out of desks and into the dirt. But, once the kids are outside, someone has to teach them about gardening, bugs, and plants. Enter: Education Outside.

This San Francisco organization created a dedicated corps of young, eager instructors to solve that problem and run green classrooms at schools throughout the city. Kids love learning about the outdoors and can even take home some lessons to their parents.

Education Outside

Education Outside also has workshops, resources for teaching kids about the outdoors, and a summer camp. Rachel Fudge, communications manager, gave us some insight about who makes up this corps and how the idea to educate kids outside got started in the first place.

RootsRated: How did Education Outside get started?

Rachel Fudge: Education Outside grew out of a grassroots coalition known as the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance. The Alliance led a successful campaign to secure nearly $14 million in city bond funding to design and construct green schoolyards at 84 public schools throughout San Francisco— the largest green schoolyards system of any school district in the country.

As Arden Bucklin-Sporer, executive director of first the SFGSA and now Education Outside, tells it, the Alliance thought their role would end once those green schoolyards were under construction. But, in fact, they realized their work was just beginning, because in order to thrive, green schoolyards need dedicated stewards— an impossibility for many public schools with limited resources.

So they hatched the idea of a service corps of young people who are passionate about nature, the environment, social justice, elementary education, and science. In 2011, they launched the Corps for Education Outside.

RootsRated: Can you describe the programs offered by Education Outside?

Fudge: Our primary program is the Corps for Education Outside, which currently serves 22 elementary schools in San Francisco and is expanding each year to reach more schools in the district. Each corps member is assigned to one elementary school for a two-year term of service. A corps member becomes a part of that school community, teaching in the outdoor classroom (aka school garden) four days a week and leading sustainability efforts at the school. Fridays are dedicated to intensive trainings and workshops for corps members on everything from classroom management to horticultural practices to scientific inquiry techniques.

Education Outside

As more and more schools in our district join our program, we’re increasingly focusing our efforts on the Corps for Education Outside, because it allows us to have a deeper impact.

RootsRated: What are your goals with the classroom programs?

Fudge: Our goal is first and foremost to get every elementary student into the outdoor classroom once a week. That’s our baseline. When kids go outside to learn, they are stimulated in new and different ways. Science really comes alive outside, and we believe that outdoor experiential education is a key way to make every child’s first science experiences positive and engaging.

On a day-to-day basis, our corps members see the difference in kids’ attitudes toward the outdoors, from trying new vegetables, to understanding their role as environmental stewards. Kids who once were afraid of spiders will happily search for insects throughout the garden; kids eagerly sample fava beans and chard pesto when they’ve grown and harvested themselves.

RootsRated: How are corps members selected?

Fudge: We have a rigorous application and interviewing process for corps members. This year, we received more than 200 applications for 10 positions. We look for people who have experience with environmental and science education, have taught elementary-aged kids, are independent self-starters, and, most of all, are passionate about service, the environment, and elementary education.

Once hired, corps members go through an intensive three-week training program called Boot Camp, before school starts. Then they start teaching classes at their assigned school, four days a week. On the fifth day, they either do site administration work or attend additional trainings.

Education Outside

RootsRated: If someone wants to get involved, what can they do?

Fudge: We’re in the process of hiring corps members for the 2014-2015 school year, but application information for future years is available on our website. Read our monthly newsletter for news and other opportunities.

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