Philadelphia schools adopt outdoor education as a graduation strategy
- The School District of Philadelphia has adopted a new strategy to boost graduation rates that has very little to do with reading, writing or arithmetic. Instead, it has everything to do with leadership skills, team building, character development and other byproducts of Outward Bound’s outdoor expeditions. .
- The district's top administrator views the strategy as a no-brainer. "It creates this deep sense of purpose — of taking care of your fellow students, of depending on them, of encouraging them," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "[I]t provides access to an outdoor experience that some of our children might not have otherwise."
- Philadelphia school leaders, the article says, believe the Outward Bound program has the potential to improve academic achievement, especially among high school freshmen. This year, 1,400 freshman are participating in Outward Bound activities, so far with impressive results, and plans are the in the works to expand the program to include nearly all ninth graders in the 2019-20 school year.
A Stanford University synthesis of the research on environmental education (EE) found “clear evidence” that learning both in and about the great outdoors improves academic performance, enhances critical thinking and contributes to a number of life-building attributes, including confidence, autonomy and leadership skills. “There is a mountain of evidence that suggests EE is a powerful way to teach students,” says associate professor Nicole Ardoin, of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and Woods Institute for the Environment. The study also found that environmental education motivates children to learn and provides them with an interest in civic engagement, a sense of empowerment and an ability to take action.
In addition to Outward Bound, the environmental education resources available to educators are vast. An Edutopia article recommends starting local by reaching out to experts in your area and exploring already existing programs organized by church organizations, YMCA camps, Boy and Girl Scout facilities, state parks, and other schools. The National Education Association has an exhaustive list of organizations that provide ready-made lesson plans, activities, assessments and professional development tools. And the North American Association for Environmental Education is a go-to resource for information about everything from instructional tools to teacher certification programs to public policy initiatives, including the Every Student Succeeds Act, which for the first time makes federal funds available to environmental education and literacy programs.
Some schools have also stretched beyond occasional expeditions to implement "forest school" models in which students spend the majority of a school day in the woods. Proponents say students benefit from an integrated learning experience in which they are acquiring independence, developing problem-solving skills and practicing teamwork.
- Philadelphia Inquirer To bolster academics, Philly schools turning to the outdoors