A dose of fresh air for schools and churches

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: creative meeting management.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: More than a century ago physicians believed fresh air helped keep tuberculosis at bay. So in 1908, teachers at a Rhode Island school bundled-up the students, threw open the windows, and held class. None of the children contracted the disease that year.

BROWN: Within two years, 65 other schools nationwide followed suit. Today, school and church leaders are giving that lesson a modern upgrade.

WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett spoke with educators and pastors about the creative ways they’re bringing people together again.

REPORTER, BONNIE PRITCHETT: Mater Amoris Montessori School sits on 13 rural acres in Aston, Maryland. Alicia Davis Enright is head of school. She says her teachers have always incorporated the grounds into the curriculum for their students, who range in age from two-and-a-half to 12. 

But for the upcoming school year, using outdoor space will not only be instructional … it will be imperative.


ALICIA DAVIS ENRIGHT: It just seemed so evident to me that the priority is bringing children back to school. And knowing that being outside is a safe option, it just seemed like the only real solution…

Keeping the students safely separated requires splitting them up. While some students work on lessons indoors—with windows cracked and fans blowing—others will meet outside.

1 ALICIA ENRIGHT: [6:22 -]

ALICIA ENRIGHT: So, there are many expenses that go along with this. It’s not an endeavor we’re taking lightly… [6:32 -] So, we’re taking the time to… get the professional grade tents, invest in new furniture having outdoor sinks installed …

Enright hopes to offset the non-profit school’s additional expenses with grants and sponsorships.

Andy Zawacki is head of Arborbrook Christian Academy in Matthews, North Carolina. He says his school will most likely dip into reserves to develop the outdoor areas necessary to space out their 200 K-through-12 students.


ANDY ZAWACKI: The outdoor space [RUN UNDER VO]…

Building a pavilion to accommodate outdoor lunches and classrooms will probably be the most expensive outlay, around $10-thousand dollars. Other spaces are more simply designed and constructed using tree stumps for seats and triangular fabric awnings to protect students from the sun or rain.

 The school has ways to off-set some of the unplanned expenses.


ANDY ZAWACKI: We have parents that have to volunteer… [26:51 -] We use all our own people. So, we’re not paying contractors for that.

Indoors, staff and students 11 years old and up will have to wear masks. Daily activities will minimize co-mingling among the grades.

Response to Arborbrook’s return to in-person learning has been mostly positive. The surrounding public schools will begin the semester online, with students meeting on campus only once a week. Parents who want their students in a classroom have been calling Zawacki.

And K through 12 schools aren’t the only ones meeting outdoors. Earlier this month, Houston’s Rice University announced plans to pitch large tents on campus for outdoor lectures. Students are invited to bring their own chairs.

About half of U-S colleges are planning for in-person classes according to a recent survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education. About one-third will use a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning.

Standard disease mitigation practices on campus include social distancing, mask requirements, and monitoring daily symptoms.

Natasha Martin is an associate professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego. She outlined another proactive measure her university is taking in a video posted online.

NATASHA MARTIN: [0:05] U – C San Diego Return to Learn program is an effort to test all students, faculty and staff in the U- C San Diego community for the novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19…

In May, almost 16-hundred UC San Diego resident students were screened for the virus. None tested positive. Beginning in September, the school plans to test all students, faculty, and staff every month in an effort to thwart a potential outbreak.

Churches are also anxious to avoid outbreaks in their congregations. But they’re equally anxious to start meeting in person again.

To ensure worship services do not exceed state-mandated gathering limits, the three campuses of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minnesota require worshippers to reserve seats for services.

AMBI [23:06]


Shoreline Church in Willoughby, Ohio, spreads out worshippers by separating interlocking chairs into small groups. To avoid overcrowding, the church added a second morning service soon after returning to in-person worship.

Even so, Pastor Scott Kennedy noticed some members stayed away. He believed the popularity of an outdoor service on Memorial Day weekend held the solution.


SCOTT KENNEDY: Outdoors seems to breed a little bit, at least a little bit, more, I’d say, peace of mind for people as it relates to virus spread…

People seemed to feel normal, less anxious outside. So, the church is considering moving all services outdoors for the month of August.

Changing seasons will require new solutions. Kennedy doesn’t think outdoor services can endure Ohio’s winter.

But in at least some schools, outdoor classrooms won’t close as the temperatures drop. Both Alicia Enright and Andy Zawacki say they are committed to using their schools’ outdoor spaces year-round. 


Zawacki admits parents will need to plan their student’s wardrobe accordingly.


ANDY ZAWACKI: Your shoes? You can expect they’re going to get muddy… They’re going to get dirty… Don’t spend a ton of money on shoes, even your polos – buy the cheap ones. Because they will likely get dirty… [11:43 -] We want them to see God’s creation….and we want them to know him as Creator.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett.

Students sit in a circle for an outdoor class. (Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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