The Ithaca Elementary Outdoor Gear Project

The Background

In the fall of 2020, the Ithaca City School District took the brave but important step to reopen schools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with a commitment to equity, inclusion and antiracist pedagogy and practice. Maintaining this commitment is uniquely challenging during this time, as the pandemic is shedding light on and intensifying existing inequities in communities across the globe. Reopening schools, and ensuring they remain open, is one of the most important things we can do in our community to address these inequities for our youngest learners.

To this end, the Ithaca City School District (ICSD) partnered with Ithaca Children’s Garden (ICG) to design and install outdoor learning spaces at each of our eight elementary schools. ICSD funded the purchase of logs, tarps and picnic tables for every school. Parents and community members volunteered to ready these spaces, and all eight elementary school principals are on board with getting kids outdoors.

The Need

Unfortunately, these outdoor classroom spaces will be underutilized if students do not have the gear they need to stay warm and dry, year-round, in all kinds of weather. Much like school-issued Chromebooks and iPads are indispensable learning tools during a pandemic, so is outdoor gear.

The socioeconomic need varies widely across our district—with just 25% of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch at some schools and more than 70% at others.

The Ithaca Elementary Outdoor Gear Project includes parents and PTA members from all eight schools who are committed to working together and sharing resources to make sure students at every school have the outdoor gear they need to learn and play safely outdoors. Our goal is to raise enough funds to outfit every elementary classroom with sets of outdoor gear.

Our commitment to equity and inclusion means that no child will feel singled out for having ICSD-issued gear, that families won’t need to worry about paying for gear or asking for financial assistance, and that teachers won’t have to keep their classrooms indoors when a child forgets their cold-weather gear.

The Effort

Our Phase 1 goal was to meet the priorities identified by elementary Principals to support in-person learners in spending time outdoors. Our Phase 2 goal is to raise funds for the gear needed to support outdoor learning after all Ithaca elementary-age children return to the physical classroom.

Efforts include:

  • Requesting donations from district parents who have the financial resources to contribute

  • Asking all 8 elementary PTAs to donate a percentage of their annual revenue

  • Working with community partners to fill in the gaps

Contributions are pooled into a single fund, and gear is being purchased and distributed to schools based on their specific needs. Quality gear is purchased wholesale from well-researched suppliers. We view this gear as a long-term investment, both to help keep our schools open during the pandemic and to meet ICSD's growing commitment to outdoor education beyond the pandemic.

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