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Virginia private high school sets up open-air classrooms: 'We’re still experimenting'

Student: 'We’re not talking or communicating through a computer or device'
Posted at 10:49 PM, Dec 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-13 22:53:16-05

NORFOLK, Va. –- On an unseasonably mild day Friday, ninth grade student Maya Mirkova Livni and her fellow Roadstead Montessori classmates are thankful to be learning outdoors.

“It’s a lot different than being online at home,” said 14-year-old Mirkova Livni. “It’s a lot better because we’re outside; we’re together, so we’re not talking or communicating through a computer or device.”

Roadstead Montessori High School in Norfolk has been holding open-air classrooms in its parking lot since late August.

The concept was thought of and carried out by co-heads of the small private school, Dr. Eran Livni and Dr. Anna Mirkova, to help make the most of learning during COVID-19. The school’s 15 students have the choice to learn in person or remotely via Zoom.

“They can decide on a daily basis [if] they want to come here or [if] they want to work from home,” Livni said. “This crisis gives us opportunities to be creative."

For most of the school year, the husband and wife duo have been holding classes under pop-up tents when the weather permits.

“One day was too windy, and the tent was thrown against the fence,” Livni said. “Now, we’re still experimenting the cold temperature, so we will see with the students when it’s not productive anymore.”

Each day, the students help to break the tents down and put the equipment away. Livni said he first got the open-air classroom idea when he heard about it being done in the early 1900s for tuberculosis.

“In the northeast, they came up with the idea of outdoor classrooms, and they had children taking classes during even the winter,” he said.

The outdoor classroom helps keep students engaged and thriving during a challenging time.

“In Montessori education, it’s important to connect the subjects we study - to connect the mind with the hand and to connect the subject we study to our reality,” said Mirkova.

With plenty of hands-on learning and fewer distractions, students say it beats virtual leaning from home.

“I don’t like staying at home for school because it’s boring and I can’t focus,” said ninth grade student Henry Foster.

Senior Nadia Carr said she enjoys the social interaction with her classmates and hands-on learning.

“I would rather be outside instead of at home - not only because of distractions, but because I got a lot more energy and I’ve got no place to let it out,” Carr said.

Mirkova and Livni said being able to adapt to an ever-changing reality is key to success, and they believe their students are making the grade.