STODDARD, NH — On a crisp fall morning in southern New Hampshire, 10-year-old Mirabella sits on a picnic table meticulously taking notes. Her classroom has been moved to the great outdoors because of COIVD, and she couldn't be happier about it.
Mirabella is a 5th-grade student at James Faulkner Elementary School in rural New Hampshire. Her family relocated here over the summer from Illinois. The move was hard at first but this 10-year-old didn't know it would be the best thing that could’ve happened to her.
Faced with rising COVID-19 cases last year, this school decided to move all of its classes outdoors last year. Students spent weeks setting up their spaces. A year later, a move that was supposed to be temporary for teachers like Amanda Bridges has now become a permanent fixture of learning here.
"They’re so happy. They’re so happy. It’s incredible," Bridges said while standing in the middle of the woods.
In one of the hardest school years imaginable, this rural school has seen students making improvements.
"They made growth. In the worst year ever, they made growth," Bridges added.
For kids like Mirabella, who once needed specialized learning plans or breaks to move around, learning outside has been a literal breath of fresh air.
"It’s so much easier to concentrate and focus here than it was in my other school," Mirabella said.
But it’s not just the educational impact. Almost two years into the pandemic, this school hasn’t had a single case of COVID-19 connected directly to the building.
Allison Peterson is the school’s principal. For all the bad that’s come out of COVID, she's seen the good that has come from having to challenge the status quo of education.
"We’re doing math and reading we’re just doing it in a different environment," she said.
At a time when teacher shortages are plaguing schools nationwide, staff retention has remained high. Those who work here say it’s not hard to see why.
"They learn so much by being outside. They learn to take risks and learn what their limits are in a way they can’t in the classroom," said teacher Mia Leonard-Solis.
And a time when so many schools across the country are struggling to hit the right notes, this school has come up with a lesson plan for success in the great outdoors.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect the correct name of the elementary school. A previous version of the story had Stoddard Elementary School, when in fact, the school's name is James Faulkner Elementary School.