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Rethinking Spaces and Opportunities for Learning, Especially the Arts

Creatively using community spaces for safe, outdoor learning


When its schools moved to remote learning as a result of COVID-19, Meriden Public Schools quickly searched for solutions to bring students back for in-person learning as quickly as possible. In order to do this, the district had to think creatively about how it could redesign existing spaces and leverage community spaces for socially distanced, in-person instruction.

“We utilized every outdoor area that we could, whether it was a placescape or bringing the tents in. Some of our schools have gardens that were utilized as learning areas. We borrowed picnic tables from our YMCA camp. Some of our schools have nature trails, which came out of another grant partnership with the Audubon Society. They really became learning areas - not just areas for going and taking a mass break. So if we're going to be outside, what are the elements of the natural setting that we can use to enhance learning? I think that some of those opportunities, we won't go back on that now.” - Susan Moore, Supervisor of Blended Learning


To bring students back in-person, the district worked quickly to set up new outdoor classrooms. Given the new spaces, district leaders also considered how the spaces could be leveraged for new learning opportunities as well. The district partnered with the local Audubon Society to use local trails for outdoor learning and encouraged teachers to incorporate their surroundings into the lessons. For example, art classes encouraged students to use their surroundings in nature for both inspiration and to leverage natural elements, such as using snow to create sculptures for a ceramics class. Meriden considered what spaces it could use for student activities outside of the normal school day, such as performances. The district chose to move high school arts performances to a local park, which significantly increased the number of students who could perform as well as the number of community members who could attend.

This strategy is a part of TLA's Hop, Skip, Leapfrog release, which explores the concrete ways in which schools and systems pursued student-centered innovation during COVID-19. Explore the full guide to find additional strategies, insights, and resources.