Paul Diehl (AOEA); Todd Parker, AOEA board president; Scott Kovarovics (AOEA); supporters Sandy Horwitt; Joan Horwitt; Mary Ann Penning (AOEA); Swanson student Henry Brys and his mother Jamie Brys waited four hours on March 26th to address School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein during his office hours on the topic of Outdoor Lab cuts.
”The proposed (budget) cuts send a message about our priorities and how we value the diversity we celebrate. When we raise up the Outdoor Lab on page 14 as an example of the unique programs that make Arlington Public Schools amazing, and then mention on page 99 that we want to cut it from the budget, we sound hypocritical.” — Emily Vincent, County Council of PTAs Committee Chair
At a meeting of the school board on March 28, advocates of the Outdoor Lab spoke out about the Tier II budget cuts proposed in the superintendent’s budget document. The staff, buses, and educational programs at the lab are not currently funded.
Students, parents, and teachers who value the Outdoor Lab as a resource spoke out about the cuts at the meeting. “For students with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), physical learning is most impactful; the one thing they will never forget is the Outdoor Lab,” said Nicole Merlene, who went through APS K-12 with severe ADHD. “The physical nature of the Outdoor Lab was able to teach us in a way that cannot be replicated in any other setting and that is important as we increasingly rely on screens ….”
MaryAnn Penning retired six years ago from APS after teaching fifth grade and raising four daughters in APS. She saw firsthand the effect it had on her students and her children. “The lab visits were a unique experience, quite unlike anything else in Arlington, especially for the kids in my classroom who had trouble sitting still. When they got to the lab, I had no problems with them."
“Arlington Public Schools leased the property but the big joke was that it was a lease for one dollar a year and they never paid the bill,” Penning said. The schools provided staff and buses to take students out to the lab. Each year students paid $10 dues to help defray the costs. With 6,000 to 9,000 students a year coming out, APS helped pay $110,000 of operating costs.
The program costs $700,000 to operate. If the budget does exclude the lab, the lab itself won’t change, but students won't be able to come out. The fifth graders will lose their overnight. The overnight visit is important, said Penning. “It is, in fact, the ‘jewel in the crown.’"
The APS School Board suggested the nature field trips could be continued on a reduced basis with trips to the Arlington nature centers, specifically Gulf Branch and Long Branch centers. Ironically, the County Budget specifically cites cuts to those same centers, and APS visits to them: “Program offerings would be reduced by up to half, with impacts to summer camps, native plant sales, environmental education programs, birding trips, and specialty visits within other DPR and County programs. All Arlington Public Schools (APS) visits would be eliminated.”
To express views on cuts to the Outdoor Lab to the school board, email: email@example.com or call 703-228-6015, to leave a voicemail for School Board and individual board members. Residents with an interest in the budget process can also visit the arlington county hearings on the budget or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.