NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – State lawmakers want to give students more opportunities to go out of the classroom, get fresh air, and learn about the outdoors during school days. “I think it’s hugely important because we are in a world where we are bubble-wrapping our children,” said the founder of SOL Forest School Sally Stevens.
The part-time program educates students 100 percent outside. Students 3 to 10 years old get to learn and play in the Bosque and Cibola National Forest. Stevens added, “We are biophilic. We need nature. We need to be outside. We need to be in the sunshine.”
Stevens mentioned she left her public school job and founded her school because she noticed kids were not getting enough time outdoors. “It’s really simple,” said Stevens. “Get them outside. Get them moving. Keep them safe. Teach them about risks versus hazards.”
Now two Democrats, including Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill of Grant County, proposed Senate Bill 289. If passed, it would mandate outdoor learning in public K through 12 schools across the state.
“We want to make sure that teachers and principals understand that every subject area can be taught outside,” said Sen. Correa Hemphill.
According to Sen. Hemphill, the state would give teachers the curriculum and physical resources needed for the new standards. Resources needed could include shade coverings, chairs, and outdoor chalkboards.
Sen. Hemphill said, “We really want to maximize the time that we’re outside with children for their mental well-being, for their physical well-being, and for the teachers and staff too.”
While the bill saw support in Monday’s senate education committee, some members raised concerns that the proposal would put a burden on schools by revamping standards for all subjects and grade levels at once. Meanwhile, others worried about funding saying this could be an unfunded mandate. Currently, Hemphill expects $1.2 million to be appropriated.
The committee asked the sponsors to rework the bill. Sen. Hemphill said she, and Sen. Roberto Gonzales, will be meeting with the Public Education Department to discuss the standards. She said they may start the learning component with kindergarten through 3rd grade and eventually expand to all grades.