Upland Hills prepares for outdoor learning with return to school this fall

Upland Hills School in Oxford is panning for in-person learning this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic but they're taking the lessons outdoors - a common practice for the independent school district.

Outdoor lessons have a tradition since its founding almost half a century ago, according to director Rob Himburg, who says they didn't have brick and mortar buildings when it first started.

"In our 48-year history we have spent most of our schooling time in the outdoors - in the natural world," Himburg said.

This year is going to be a bit different. Teacher Robert Crowe says they'll be spending virtually all their time outside to learn this year.

"Every child will have their own individual tent around the perimeter so that they have a place that they can go into and focus and learn and be able to be sheltered from the elements," Crowe said.

He teaches kids between six and eight and says there will also be a group tent where they can gather for lessons.

"It's a way that we can keep them safe and give them that sense of comfort and security that they need at the moment and still focus on academic learning."

It may not be what comes to mind when we think of a traditional school but in this classroom, bug spray will be just one of their school supplies.

"They spend a lot of their day in the swamps and collecting maple syrup in the wintertime and trekking through the woods during their biology classes," Himburg said.

With safety a top priority amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Himburg says the 30 acres of wooded property allows for plenty of social distancing and tents, which they plan to use year-round.

"These are four-season tents. We can warm them in the winter, we can batten them down in severe weather and yeah, they should serve us throughout the whole year," he said.

The school is small but still accepting students. It has programs for kindergarten through 8th grade as well as a blended online program for high school.

"So much of what we have had on offer for 48, 49 years now is perfect for this really exceptional, kind of crazy environment we find ourselves in - so a five-acre organic farm, a ropes course, a five-acre field to run and play in," Himburg said.

That's been their longtime model, but now in the age of COVID-19, it's the way they're hoping students and teachers can stay distant but still be together to learn.

MORE: https://uplandhills.org/