Submitted by Wild Whatcom, written by Licia Sahagun

A coalition in Whatcom County is working together to help the community re-envision learning, child care, and peer-to-peer connection. The Whatcom Coalition for Environmental Education (WCEE), comprised of more than a dozen area nonprofits, businesses, agencies, and tribal institutions, meets regularly to identify areas for increased collaboration and coordination among their organizations and with schools. As an active community of professionals, WCEE focuses on expanding and deepening access to high-quality, culturally responsive environmental education for every child across Whatcom County. With the emergence of COVID-19, the Coalition is now focused on integrating learning outdoors as a tool for equitable and safe school reopening as it becomes clearer that this may be a safe option for learning in the fall:

  1. We are learning more about how it is safer to gather outdoors. Experts are speaking out publicly about the safety of gathering outdoors, and preliminary case studies are beginning to confirm that COVID-19 transmission is far greater in indoor environments than gatherings outdoors.1,2
  2. Education and health officials are recommending more time outside. Guidance for fall 2020 learning from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction encourages public instructors to provide more space between students, including keeping students outside more. This guidance follows the advice of local and global health officials who are preferring outdoor gatherings as much as possible.
  3. Whatcom County benefits from local outdoor experts and an abundance of natural spaces. In addition to the plethora of public parks, we have a wealth of knowledge in the community as demonstrated by the WCEE membership and groups such as the North Cascades Audubon Society and the Northwest Mushroomers Association.
  4. Spending time outdoors also has intrinsic, scientifically proven mental and physical health benefits. Now, more than ever, getting outside may be a vital addition to our daily regimen.

During this unprecedented time, there is also potential for an unprecedented collaboration across organizations and schools to support youth in equitable and safe learning. Keren Bitan and Ben Greené, who are co-leading WCEE as a program of the Whatcom Community Foundation, share “as the pandemic has forced so many organizations to rethink and adapt, it is incredibly inspiring to see these leaders setting a powerful example by working together for the benefit of every young person, creating new models of safe, equitable and inclusive learning outside.” A strengthened partnership between schools and outdoor educators may both reduce the COVID-19-related risks of in-person instruction and peer-to-peer connection and save an invaluable industry in the community.

This article is adapted from a longer blog post by Licia Sahagun, Executive Director of Wild Whatcom about the coalition, benefits of outdoor education, and COVID-19’s economic impact on the outdoor education industry.

If you would like to learn more, get involved, or donate to supporting our local outdoor educators, visit the Whatcom Coalition of Environmental Education website at www.whatcomenvironmentaleducation.com. Donations are processed through the Whatcom Community Foundation.

Learn more about Wild Whatcom at www.WildWhatcom.com.
Contact: 360-389-3414 or info@WildWhatcom.org regarding the organization’s services.

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