‘We’re going to be trapped in those classrooms:’ Toronto teacher seeks outdoor alternatives for students

Click to play video: 'Ontario schools consider outdoor education due to poor ventilation indoors'
Ontario schools consider outdoor education due to poor ventilation indoors
WATCH ABOVE: As students get set to return to class, many in Ontario will be heading into old buildings with poor ventilation. Schools are attempting to bring students outdoors to learn but as one teacher points out, that option presents a whole host of challenges. Caryn Lieberman reports – Aug 28, 2020

Toronto teacher Daniela Mendez is spending the last few days before school starts brainstorming ways to keep her high school students outside the classroom.

“I’m feeling like it’s on me to come up with outside-of-the-box solutions,” said the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) teacher of nearly 15 years.

She is a big proponent of outdoor education and in the past has brought her students to Queen’s Park, among other places.

“I teach civics, I go all the time. Of course, they’re closed and doing virtual online classes only because they don’t want big crowds,” said Mendez.

READ MORE: TDSB provides behind-the-scenes look at COVID-19 school preparations

Now, more than ever, she said she understands the importance of having safe outdoor spaces for students given the risk of COVID-19.

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She said she has also inquired about indoor spaces, at places like the ROM, because the alternative of staying inside at school is not an option Mendez said she is keen on.

“Our school buildings are not ready to receive large crowds just like a lot of indoor spaces aren’t ready to receive large crowds,” she said.

“It will be very challenging for students to deal with the safety measures that are in place.”

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Mendez explained that her school is limited in terms of nearby green spaces and she will be competing with other educators to find space.

Then there is the issue of transportation to areas further away from the school.

“TTC would be a challenge as well, even if we were allowed I don’t know how comfortable students would feel or how parents would feel,” she pointed out.

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“We are left with walking excursions, maybe, if those are allowed? Will libraries, community centres, government buildings let us in for heat and bathroom breaks?”

Mendez said the classroom where she taught last year had windows, but many of the classrooms in her school do not.

“We’re going to be trapped in those classrooms with poor ventilation and windows that maybe open a crack and in the winter when those windows close what happens then?” she asked.

The Toronto District School Board sent out an email to families on Thursday in response to the situation.

“As you know, some of our buildings are quite old and may not have mechanical ventilation. In those cases, we will be ensuring that windows are opened to provide fresh outdoor air and will support schools where there may be unique circumstances that need to be addressed.”

Read more: TDSB students can move between in-person and online class

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Just like in Mendez’s school, Krista Wylie of Fix Our Schools pointed out “many classrooms sadly across the province don’t have windows.”

Wylie said she hopes the pandemic elevates school buildings in terms of their importance in communities.

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“I think this is sort of a smack upside the head to all of us that if we want school buildings in the shape where they’re safe, they’re healthy, they’re well maintained for everyone who spends their days there,” she said.

“We need to invest in them every single year and that has not been happening for well over two decades.”

Meanwhile, Mendez said she continues to search for ways to bring her students outdoors and safe spaces to bring them, but is aware the weather will be an issue.

“Outdoor education is only as good as the weather in September, October, sometimes November,” she said.

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