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Susquehanna Life

Outdoor Education along the Colebrookdale Railroad Line

Mar 16, 2021 08:05PM ● By Laura Johnson Collard
Outdoor Education along the Colebrookdale Railroad Line [6 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

The Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust to expand outdoor classroom through PA DCED’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC). 

The COVID-19 global pandemic has wreaked havoc on all of our lives, but perhaps most profoundly, our childrens’ education. Kids are stuck at home, isolated from friends and their ‘normal’ daily routines. Addressing this seemingly impossible crisis – the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust, with the generous support of key businesses, is joining a national movement to respond and offer an antidote: outdoor classrooms.

Together with strong, established allies who bring more than 155 years of experience to outdoor recreation and education, equity and service to underserved and disadvantaged students, the Colebrookdale Railroad is expanding their core curriculum and educational outreach to meet the needs of the community.

Contributions like the $5,000 contributed by Tompkins VIST Bank will enable the CRPT to respond more quickly to preparing and building out the site to serve more children at this hour of need. The Children’s Education Grove will be accessible by rail bikes, allowing teachers, parents and students to safely distance even when traveling to the outdoor classroom space. “Rails of Revolution” is the state-aligned and approved curriculum addressing core standards in history, math, science, engineering, technology, arts, culture, literature, and languages.

According to health and education experts, the following conditions are threatened by COVID-19 and can be addressed by using outdoor spaces:

  • Equity
    . This health crisis is exacerbating existing inequalities across America. There are vast disparities in students’ access to online learning, adequate food, stable housing, medical care, and access to nature.
  • Learning. Despite best efforts by school districts to provide distance learning, students are experiencing significant academic disruptions and loss.
  • Mental Health. This crisis is causing substantial adverse experiences for children and adults. Students will return to school with a mental health burden caused by social isolation, uncertainty, trauma, and stress.
  • Physical Health
    . Most children and youth are spending their time indoors on electronic devices. It is likely that many will return to school at a reduced fitness level. Some may also have suffered from COVID-19.
  • Economic Health. Our country’s economic strength and security are threatened when much of the workforce stays home and businesses close. Many school and childcare programs that allow parents to return to work are closed.
Virtually or in class, the outdoors belongs in the curriculum. ~Laura Johnson Collard, for the Bay Journal News Service

Now a full year into this global pandemic, Maryland’s school districts and families are still grappling with how to safely educate our students.

Many students are learning virtually part-time or full-time with schools' full reopening plans in flux. There are lessons we are all learning: recovery and resilience.

Recovery and resilience in the era of COVID-19 is a community-wide effort. The shift to at-home learning brought significant challenges for families, teachers and even parents' employers.

A family of four, and fido too, enjoying an escape to the great outdoors. (Bay Journal photo by Dave Harp)

Hours of instructional time have been lost. Not all families have access to reliable virtual learning structures, and working parents struggle to balance work and supporting their kids during at-home school days. The day when the majority of our students will be back in our school buildings full-time is hard to know; schools, in general, are not designed to accommodate social distancing.

The mental health of students, teachers and parents has been impacted by the stress of these extraordinary but necessary efforts keep ourselves healthy physically. Behavioral experts suggest that COVID-19 disruptions will cause at least one “adverse childhood experience” per student.

The risks of transmitting COVID-19 are lower in outdoor spaces than indoor spaces. While we enjoyed longer days and time outside this summer and fall, the short days of winter are now upon us. Typically in the winter, many of us tend to retreat indoors. Should we be spending more time inside as temperatures drop or more precipitation is likely to fall?

This winter is different. Let’s look for ways that time can be spent outside. Our school grounds can be used as an extension of the classroom.

Around the country and the world, school leaders are re-visioning what school will look like as we continue to address these challenges. Districts are rethinking instruction, rethinking school buildings, rethinking all of the social services that rely on reaching students through schools. Against that backdrop, my organization, the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE), and its environmental education partners are using the outdoors as a solution to the many of the challenges we face.

MAEOE, an affiliate of the North American Association for Environmental Education, is encouraging school systems to maintain recess time in the schedule and create learning opportunities outside. We are also recommending that families with children attending virtual classes and studying at home should create time outside not just for students, but for every member of the family.

We support school districts, the community and Maryland’s families as we navigate the challenges of education and childcare during this time. To help citizens use the outdoors for learning, health and enjoyment, MAEOE has compiled a library of resources, available under the “Resources” tab on the main page of our website (, to help you connect with the outdoors, in nature around the corner, just outside your door and even at your kitchen table.

Since last March we have collected resources to support teachers with virtual learning, as well as resources for parents during summer, weekends and holidays. Resources include high-tech, low-tech and no-tech ways to connect with the environment. Children and adults can explore, learn and enjoy any season anywhere.

We can all be essential partners in using the outdoors for the recovery and reopening of schools. Let’s work together to make sure that students continue to thrive and learn, and that families have the support they need to rebuild our economy.

Laura Johnson Collard is the executive director of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal. This article first appeared in the January-February issue of the Bay Journal and was distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.

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