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Harrisonburg City Public Schools reimagining traditional learning spaces

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 11:24 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Efforts to get more students back in the classroom are prompting Harrisonburg City Public Schools teachers and staff to get creative and reimagine what a typical classroom looks like.

“Not just from a health perspective from COVID, but really from a long-term perspective any time we can take our learning to an experiential place and be outside we often have really, really positive results for students,” Margot Zahner the principal at Waterman Elementary said.

HCPS’s are working to create outdoor classrooms. These will be used as a COVID-19 mitigation strategy as the pandemic continues, but school leaders hope these spaces become permanent.

″People in education are always looking around to how can we grow and improve and deliver the best student-centered learning,” Zahner said. “Certainly, outdoor learning is one of those great, great opportunities and in the Valley, we have the opportunity to lead the way.”

Zahner said Waterman teachers and grounds crews are planning to use existing spaces, like a garden and courtyard, for outdoor classrooms, but she said the opportunities are endless.

“We have some beautiful spaces where buildings come together that we can maybe take advantage of some architecture to create shaded spaces but then we can also just look at our trees in the front,” Zahner said. “This is a 110-year-old building with just beautiful facilities. We can use those to really take advantage of those for kids to learn everywhere.”

Right behind Waterman Elementary is Morrison Park, which Zahner said can have the potential to give them additional space.

“We would love to have a partnership with the city where we can use the [Morrison Park pavilion] as instructional space for the summer,” Zahner said.

At the end of this school year, families can voluntarily enroll their students in grades K-8 into a summer remediation program to help some students get caught back up on their studies.

Harrisonburg City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Richards said they are planning to construct temporary structures, like installing chalkboards and shade sails, but the goal is to make permanent structures, like gazebos, down the line.

Because these outdoor classrooms will be used as COVID-19 mitigation strategies, federal CARES Act money allocated to HCPS can be used to cover the costs of the projects.

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