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'This is a huge step forward' | DCPS tests out in-person, outdoor 'classroom'

D.C. Public Schools invests $19 million toward extended summer programing.

WASHINGTON — The sun shone down on students and teachers sitting in a socially distant circle in the parking lot at McKinley Tech. It did not look like much, but the small outdoor "classroom" was everything to students at the Northeast D.C. high school. WUSA9 was the only station invited to take a peek at the class.

“It’s probably going to be a long time before things get back to normal, but I think this is a huge, huge step forward,” Salih Carter said.

“I want to take electrical engineering when I go to college so I’m happy with today’s opportunity,” Dilshad Naher added.

Carter is a senior, Naher is a junior. Both have taken on demanding courses this year in the engineering program. “Virtually senior year has been very different to say the least,” Carter said. 

“I liked all my classes, but it was challenging, and my mental health was terrible to be honest,” admitted Nahar, who said weekly mindfulness sessions with her teachers have helped. She said outdoor opportunities will help too.

The students ditched the screen for some face-to-face time on Wednesday and joined just a small group of future engineers for their first outdoor class.  

RELATED: Could schools hold classes outdoors to reduce coronavirus risks? Denmark tried it, and it worked

The one-day session was part of the adopt-a-school program where Chevrolet partnered with McKinley. Students had the chance to check out the mechanics of an electric car -- a lesson that simply could not be replicated virtually.

RELATED: 'Three feet with masks is just as safe' | DC parents urge DCPS to loosen COVID guidelines

“My teachers have done an amazing job connecting engineering to the students, but the reality is it’s a hands-on process,” said Kenneth Lesley, director of the school’s engineering academy.

D.C. Public schools is using about $19 million in federal stimulus funds to expand its summer program. While school leaders have not released details of what classes will look like, outdoor learning is on the table because it “demonstrates our overall commitment to applying what we have learned over the past year.”

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