NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The pandemic pushed students and teachers at Linden Waldorf School in Nashville, Tennessee, outside and into pavilion classrooms — a model the school said will remain as they build permanent outdoor classrooms.
"This is a permanent change. We have decided to intentionally invest in our students' health and safety, not only their physical health, but their mental health as well," Said Tricia Drake, Linden Waldorf School head of school. "Being outside in nature is, aside from the leaves blowing and the leaf blowers, and some of the other noises that just happen outside, they really pale in comparison to what the students are actually getting out of their educational experience here."
The school built outdoor pavilion structures in the summer of 2020 so in-person classes could continue in the fall of 2020.
The students have stayed primarily outdoors ever since.
Seventh-grader Zain Khalili said he prefers the outdoor classroom, even when it means bundling up in the winter.
"It's a lot better than doing virtual school because after I would get off every day of just being on the computer in class, I would not feel very good," Khalili said.
Second-grader Eliza Green agrees.
"I like that it's outside, and you have a less chance of getting sick or getting COVID and you have more things to look at when you're bored," Green said. "It isn't really crammed out here like it can be in those indoor classrooms."
Third-grade teacher Rosana Portillo — who moved up with her students every year since the first grade — said she wishes it did not take a pandemic to bring school outdoors.
"One of the things we talk about with parents is that a lot of our kids, you know, we try to provide these beautiful happy childhoods, which is amazing," Portillo said. "But sometimes there's not really that many challenges and having kind of a physical challenge is actually not a bad thing for kids of a certain age. A lot of the students have risen up to the challenge of doing chores and helping take care of our space. And that's actually been a beautiful thing to see. Whereas inside, the adults tend to do things a little bit more often. And now everybody really has to help."
Portillo said she also has seen improvement in the students' attitudes.
"Really, the camaraderie of the group and their sense of service has just really risen since we've been out here," she said.
In addition, for her students as third graders, she said she has seen the benefit of teaching science and culture lessons in the outdoor environment.
The school is building new outdoor-indoor classrooms that are set to be ready for students later in the 2022 spring semester.
"Being outside is not just like a limitation that we're having to work through that it really does provide a lot of benefits. And maybe we probably should have tried it earlier," Portillo said. "In fact, there are a lot of things that we had to correct and redirect for students that we just simply are simply not issues, non-issues out here."