Sharon Danks has been working for more than 20 years to get school kids outdoors. As a trained landscape architect and urban planner, she says too many schools across the country ignore the educational and health benefits offered by the outdoor spaces of their campuses. This is something she's been trying to change through her nonprofit Green Schoolyards America, based in Berkeley, California, and something that's become an international topic of concern since the coronavirus pandemic caused the mass closure of schools.
With the next school year fast approaching and no sign that schools will be able to operate as usual, or whether they'll open at all, Danks' mission to move learning outdoors has a sudden new urgency.
In April, Danks began having conversations about reopening local schools with three other organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Mateo County Office of Education, the Lawrence Hall of Science museum in Berkeley, and the environmental education nonprofit Ten Strands. Within a month, as the impact of the pandemic spread, it was clear this was much more than a local question.
In early June the organizations co-hosted a webinar on responding to COVID-19 by using outdoor spaces for education. More than 1,000 people from 40 states and eight countries registered.