The students of PS 143Q in Corona, Queens have a natural place for their outdoor classes — the soccer fields of Hinton Park, right outside their school’s front door.

On Thursday, a small group of second grade students sat inside hula hoops distanced from each other, and ran drills during physical education class under the supervision of their teacher Johnny Correa during a press conference organized by the city’s Department of Education.

The city park has become the school’s “largest classroom,” said principal Justine Lucas, adding that it has been used for learning opportunities outside of PE, as well, including “nature walks, science experiments, enriched discussion opportunities... and so much more."

This is happening because of the DOE’s Outdoor Learning initiative during the COVID-19 pandemic (similar to open-air classrooms created during health crises of the past), where schools submitted about 1,100 proposals to teach students outside the classroom environment as part of social distancing efforts.

The DOE said 630 proposals were for on-site spaces like school yards, 310 proposals for public parks, and 190 proposals to use nearby street space. It was not immediately clear if each proposal came from different schools, or if schools could submit multiple proposals.

Corona was one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods early on in the pandemic, Chancellor Richard Carranza said at the press conference. As schools closed in the spring and families sheltered in place, “for many children, they may have been unable to explore the world around them,” he said. Using Hinton Park as a classroom means “a space where teachers can be creative and students benefit from that creativity.”

“I know this public space brings joy to our kids. They can run around, exercise and play safely with the teachers and friends,” said PTA President Angelica Salgado at the press conference.

At one point this summer, Carranza had talked about resource pooling amongst the city’s PTAs so that wealthier school communities could help poorer schools acquire resources for outdoor learning — an idea that he now calls part of the brainstorming in the “very initial stages.”

“As we know we're all in a very limited funding environment, but to help schools we want to make sure that of those 1,100 plus schools that have outdoor learning plans, no one is going without what they need to be able to actually put them into effect,” Carranza said.

He added that the Fund For Public Schools, the DOE’s non-profit partner, has raised some donations in support of outdoor learning though the total amount was not immediately available.

The DOE didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether outdoor learning will end at some point this year, but road closure signage indicates the program may last until November 30th.