Outdoor learning has never been more important than during the Age of COVID-19.
And that’s why the Kyrene de los Cerritos PTO and Principal Amy Gingell are teaming up on a project they hope the community will join.
As part of the PTO’s annual Go, Speedy, Go! Fundraiser that raises funds to support the Ahwatukee school’s teachers, staff and students, the PTO is focusing on Gingell’s Outdoor Learning Spaces Initiative.
Gingell wants to create two outdoor classroom environments where teachers can bring their students to read, write, learn and even enjoy lunch.
The PTO is raising money to buy 12 outdoor tables with connected seats for the school’s spacious courtyard on Desert Foothills Parkway.
After Kyrene and other Arizona schools were closed for nearly six months, many students have returned to classrooms.
But to mitigate virus spread, one of the many safety protocols adopted by virtually all districts that have reopened is maintaining a “cohort” format in which the same group of students, all wearing masks, learns together, eats together and plays together throughout the school day.
“In order to adhere to recommendations by the CDC, students remain in their classroom during lunch and movement around the school is minimized in order to maintain physical distance from other cohort classes,” explained Janie Miller, PTO fundraising chairwoman and the organization’s development coordinator.
“Children are indoors more than previous school years,” she added.
While many districts are grappling with often aging HVAC systems to maintain adequate circulation in classrooms and buildings, Kyrene purchased HEPA air filtration machines for every classroom that captures 99.97 percent of air particles every 35 minutes.
Still, fresh air is even more effective in stopping virus spread – hence Gingell’s campaign for the tables.
“Mrs. Gingell has been brainstorming on various ways to reimagine how school can be reopened safely by mitigating the risk of coronavirus spread but also caring for the mental and physical health of the children she has entrusted to her,” Miller said.
Now that temperatures are moderating, she added, “her mission is to create these outdoor learning spaces in the newly renovated courtyard area to allow four to five classes to be outside concurrently.”
One learning space would be located outside the school library and the other near the school garden.
The school needs 16 round patio tables with a center umbrella for shade. With a cost of $800 per unit, the total cost of the project is estimated to be around $14,000.
“Our hope is that current Cerritos families, Cerritos alumni families, other Ahwatukee families and local businesses might synergize with us to make this a reality,” Miller said.
The Outdoor Learning Spaces Initiative will “provide opportunities for the students and staff to change their learning environment throughout the course of the school day with increased access to fresh air, natural light and nature,” Miller said.
She said repurposing the courtyard “would improve the overall health and wellness of students and staff – which also would benefit our Ahwatukee community as a whole.”
Cerritos is currently looking for sponsors, who can “buy” a whole table for $800, a half $400 or just contribute any amount towards the project at cerritospto.org/donate.
All donations are tax-deductible. If interested, a dedication plaque can be affixed with the sponsoring family’s name, business or as a way of honoring a loved one,” Miller said.