Students listen to instructor by a water stream in a forestThousands of students will be denied the opportunity to learn “beyond the classroom” as the outdoor education programs run by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) fall victim to the Ford government’s drastic funding cuts.

Forty-five outdoor education specialists currently staff the board’s outdoor education centres and help to provide outdoor learning experiences for more than 90,000 students every year. But if TDSB trustees pass the proposed 2019-20 operating budget, four of the board’s ten outdoor education programs will be closed from September.

Toronto education workers are urging TDSB trustees to reject the budget’s proposals for cuts to outdoor education and to keep the programs available to all students in the board’s schools.

According to John Weatherup, president of CUPE 4400, which represents the education workers, “TDSB needs to strengthen, not cut, the opportunities for outdoor education experiences.

“In a diverse, growing and prosperous city like Toronto, urban students should have equitable and regular access to outdoor education,” said Weatherup. “These cuts will reduce access to programs and disadvantage students, particularly those from families on modest incomes.”

The board’s outdoor education programs offer students the chance to apply knowledge they have learned in science, technology, mathematics, and geography classes, as well as investigate concepts around the environment and climate change – vital issues that will have profound effect on the future of today’s students.

But students also benefit in other ways from time spent learning outdoors, through lower stress levels, improved cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills, greater creativity and better mental health.

“In 2003, there were going to be cuts to TDSB’s outdoor education program because of cuts to funding by the provincial government. But TDSB trustees refused to implement them; they told the province to do its own dirty work. We are calling on trustees to take that same principled stand again this time,” Weatherup concluded.