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Environmental & Outdoor Education Organizations Impacted by COVID-19

Environmental and outdoor science education organizations face threat of shrinking by more than half due to COVID-19 
HIGHLIGHTS: According to a policy brief released by UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, by Dec. 31, 2020:
·   11 million kids who would have been served by 1,000 organizations will have missed environmental and outdoor science learning opportunities. 60% of them are from communities of color or low income communities.
·   $600M in lost revenue from 1,000 organizations
·   30,000 employees laid off or furloughed from 1,000 organizations
·   37% of organizations in CA and 30% nationally are highly unlikely to reopen
·   Over 1/3 of the outdoor education field (up to 65%) is likely to disappear, eroding a key component of the nation’s education infrastructure
·   Several recommendations for the field are offered
Summary of Policy Brief
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Thousands of organizations across the country welcome young people to their first outdoor education experience. Getting youth outside, connecting with the world around them, and learning about nature, has many documented academic, health and social benefits. Most outdoor education is conducted by residential outdoor science schools, nature centers, parks and zoos, and not in traditional classrooms. According to a policy brief released today by UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science in partnership with the California Environmental Literacy Initative, the North American Association for Environmental Education, and Ten Strands, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the survival of these organizations—with an alarming 63% of programs uncertain about their ability to ever reopen their doors. By the end of May, it is estimated that 4 million youth missed the opportunity to engage in these programs. The number rises to 11 million by December 2020 if these organizations are unable to reopen. This is a devastating situation, with potentially catastrophic impact. According to Lawrence Hall of Science Director Dr. Rena Dorph “this is happening at a time when public health leaders are promoting the value of outdoor learning as safe, engaging, effective and essential.”
The study included a survey of environmental and outdoor science education organizations nationwide. Nearly 1,000 responses were received, from 49 states and the District of Columbia, with the majority of respondents coming from nonprofit organizations (62%), and or public/governmental organizations (35.%). Programs serve a wide range of learners in areas including science, environmental literacy, conservation, youth development, community building, social emotional learning, career and job skill development, and environmental justice.
The policy brief suggests opportunities to mitigate the potential losses through funding priorities and intentional coordination of efforts with local and state education agencies to redeploy outdoor educators to work in K-12 school settings to increase the capacity of the schools to educate students while following social distancing guidelines. Through partnerships, such arrangements could expand the space limits of schools, help them to achieve learning goals, while allowing parents to return to work and provide educational, health and social benefits to the students.
Craig Strang, Associate Director at the Lawrence Hall of Science notes “Outdoor science and environmental learning organizations are an essential part of the education system. They offer solutions to challenges the schools are currently facing as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic, and need to be considered as key partners in developing funding priorities, health policies, and guidelines for opening schools and delivering educational programming. It is our hope that this policy brief will help inform these decisions, while underscoring the importance outdoor learning plays in meeting educational and societal goals.”