OSSE Performance Oversight Testimony of Kelsey Desmond – 2022

Chairman Phil Mendelson
Committee of the Whole
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004 

March 1, 2022

Subject: Performance Oversight Hearing for the Office of State Superintendent for Education

Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson, Councilmembers and Staff. My name is Kelsey Desmond and I am the Youth Programs Coordinator at Casey Trees and a Ward 6 resident. Casey Trees is a nonprofit dedicated to restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy of our nation’s capital. We plant trees, advocate for tree protection and teach students of all ages on the value of our District’s trees and green spaces.  

The Office of the State Superintendent for Education’s vision is to close the achievement gap and ensure students of all ages and backgrounds are prepared for success both in school and in life. In this unprecedented time, OSSE has transitioned to support schools in reopening safely. From virtual learning options to continued emphasis on support for social, emotional learning. The continued hardships due to Covid have forced everyone to adjust and securing emergency relief funds to assist schools is noted.    

With that, we want to highlight the necessity for hands-on learning in educational programming, and how outdoor learning opportunities have become more prevalent. We recognize that the Reopen Strong goals of getting students back to in person learning focused on health and safety first and that funds used towards outdoor infrastructure were made available to schools. However, we highlight the disconnect and continued burden put on teachers to fill the programmatic gap of utilizing this infrastructure with limited support.   

For example, cutting the Environmental Literacy Advancement Grant (ELAG) this year was a disappointment.  ELAG allowed partners to support teachers and provide curriculum aligned programming. This program placed a strong focus on students working together and interacting in an outdoor classroom setting. We note that the uncertainty of virtual vs. in person instruction played a role in classroom planning and we do applaud efforts to provide online resources for teachers. Yet, the loss of this funding complicated partner organizations ability to facilitate high-quality outdoor learning.   

It is reported that outdoor learning can make students 50 percent more attentive to the lessons being given and 33 percent more likely to participate in future learning experiences1. Together, these benefits help students become more self-directed in their learning, foster creative and critical thinking and increase students’ confidence. It can also help them develop leadership skills and build peer-to-peer bonds, decrease stress and anxiety, mitigate symptoms of depression and promote outdoor activities. With that, we ask that funding be reinstated to support partners in providing impactful outdoor/environmental programming in collaboration with teachers.  

We would also like to reemphasize the goal in the Sustainable DC plan to teach 100% of children in the District about environmental and sustainable concepts by 2032.  OSSE updated the Environmental Literacy Plan in 2020 and we look forward to OSSE sharing data and reports on how many changes have impacted environmental literacy in the district.   

Casey Trees will continue supporting city goals and engaging youth to be stewards of their community. When we invest in our students, we invest in our future. OSSE’s mission is to work purposefully in partnership with other education systems to sustain, accelerate and deepen progress for D.C. students and Casey Trees values this partnership. 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. 

Testimony of Kelsey Desmond
Youth Programs Coordinator
Casey Trees