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Treasure Valley outdoor schools see increase in interest as parents weigh their options ahead of new school year

One parent told KTVB, "Having school outside compared to what we might be looking at, at the public schools, it's so relieving as a parent."

KUNA, Idaho — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow weeks ahead of the start of the school year, more Treasure Valley parents are beginning to decide how they want their children to return to school. KTVB spoke with two outdoor schools in the valley and a parent on why there's a sudden, new interest in outside classroom settings.

The Guardians Academy, a Kuna-based outdoor school, told KTVB on Saturday that it is experiencing a growth in interest and inquires about how to enroll new students and what an outdoor school is like.

"We are a skills-based school that provides authentic learning experiences through application of different types of trades," Daniel Olsen, an educator at the school, said. "They'll have opportunities to learn different concepts by doing them so for example, we don't talk about how plants grow we grow plants. 

"It feels really good to be able to offer an opportunity of education to these kids even in the midst of the chaos," Kristen Morton, the founder of The Guardians Academy, said.

She added that the school has been in the works for about ten years but this upcoming school year will be it's first. The academy's enrollment capacity is 300 students and is at about a third full.

Morton said the school's outside setting and small classroom, along with recent public health orders, maybe some of the reasons that interest is growing.

"Because we're an outdoor school primarily and because we have lots of space for the students to social distance, we're able to allow parents to make that decision for their families," Olsen said.

RELATED: Here's what we know about Treasure Valley schools' reopening plans

Reasons like these are attractive to parents like Natalie Plummer.

"Within just a couple of minutes of looking at their website, I knew there was something really special about this school," she said.

Plummer and her husband were already looking into The Guardians Academy before the pandemic began. They decided to enroll their two children there when the upcoming school year was going to impacted by the pandemic.

"So we started thinking what can we do that's different and then COVID happened and we were like okay we really need to see if there is anything that fits a better model for us," she said. "We realized nothing was going to be the same next year or for many years, we don't know. Having school outside compared to what we might be looking at at the public schools it's so relieving as a parent to know that this is possible and feasible."

Everwild Forest School in Boise is also seeing an uptick in interest from parents of school children.

"Children are born natural scientists to test things out themselves and this model really allows them to do that," Erica Hermsen, the founder and director of the school, said.

Interest in the school started growing in June, but Hermsen said that it has grown in the last few weeks when school districts began announcing their fall plans.

"Then in the last two-three weeks things really boomed, I would get 3-4 applications for enrollment every day," she said.

The growth was so massive that Hermsen had to hire eight new teachers for the school year, six more than she originally planned for. About 40 students are enrolled there.

"They're [the parents] seeking opportunities for education so their children can go someplace that's essentially safer than being inside and in close quarters with children during the cold, flu season and COVID as well," she added.

RELATED: Idaho virtual schools seeing dramatic increase in enrollment amid coronavirus pandemic