As our campus comes to life with spring activities, I’m constantly reminded of how fortunate we are to occupy such a beautiful corner of Los Angeles.
I’m also reminded that my own most authentic and meaningful experiences as a learner and an educator have taken place outdoors.
As a child, I explored the beaches of the Puget Sound and played in the rainforests. As a beginning educator, I worked as a mountain and rock climbing guide for Outward Bound, and as an adult, I sailed my own boat across oceans.
I have no doubt these were some of the most pivotal moments in my learning journey. Nature and place-based experiences taught me resilience, creativity, balance, patience, collaboration, grit, self-reliance, craftsmanship, and trust.
Connecting with nature and understanding the place where we live, in a deep and meaningful way is the foundation of any successful learning experience. To be a truly conscientious citizen of any place, we need to fully understand its culture, economy, and ecology.
Here at Berkeley Hall, this idea is inseparable from our students’ school experience, and our teachers, administrators and I support and encourage outdoor learning at every opportunity.
It is why over the years we have developed a more intentional Outdoor Ed program that takes our middle schoolers on unforgettable trips to Catalina, the San Bernardino mountains, Idyllwild, and Yosemite.
It is why we regularly take students in every grade to learn outside, all around our sprawling campus. Our ECD teachers are often seen leading students on walks of discovery and scavenger hunts, putting smiles on all our faces. In older grades, our JH students pursue exciting electives like Urban Farming and Digital Photography that also help them see the world around them in new ways.
Not to mention our PE and team sports programs that utilize our outdoor facilities for training and competition throughout the year. Our tennis courts, football and soccer fields, Sport court, running track, and outdoor swimming pool provide an inspiring setting where students develop athletics skills and also grow as people.
Powerful learning results when students are active and connected to the outdoors. The data shows that learning outside in intentional ways increases student engagement, test scores, as well as health and wellness across the board. I personally saw this when I conducted my doctoral research and measured levels of cognitive rigor while students engaged in outdoor learning. The findings were compelling. They proved that while students were engaged in inquiry and nature-based learning in outdoor environments, higher levels of cognitive thinking and skills are achieved for longer periods of time.
As we wrap the school year, one of the highlights of our social calendar is the BHS gala which is back on campus – and of course, outdoors. I’m especially excited that the funds raised from this event will go towards the expansion of our state-of-the art Innovation Lab. Our vision is to create an indoor/outdoor space with a specialized patio where students will work on a variety of robotics, design, engineering projects seamlessly.
I hope this is a vision that excites you as much as it does me!