HARRISBURG, S.D. (KELO) — Students at Harrisburg’s Freedom Elementary are celebrating an accomplishment three years in the making

“The teachers are really excited to use it, the kids are excited to use it and I really do believe it will be a big part of our day,” said Tanja Pederson, Principal of Freedom Elementary.

Pederson says students and staff began raising money for this outdoor classroom in late 2019.

“It became very clear to us during Covid with all the restrictions placed on education that we needed to find other spaces, other environments that the kids could spread out and really be creative with their learning,” said Mallory McCollister, Freedom Elementary PTO President.

“We were really trying to find something that would be impactful and whenever we raise money with our PTO, we really like it to impact all the students in the school,” Pederson said.

McCollister and others coordinated school-wide fundraisers and events, allowing students from each grade to participate and raise money for the project.

“Really we just plan and facilitate those fundraisers, try to make it fun for the kids, try to promote them so the kids are really invested in it,” McCollister said.

Every time a monetary goal was reached there would be prizes in each classroom. When the school reached a milestone goal, the PTO scheduled a school-wide reward for all the students’ hard work.

“It was really awesome helping and doing all of this stuff to earn this outdoor classroom. We did the fun run and we earned a lot of money from that,” said Alivia Cramblit, 5th grader.

“It feels actually really good because everyone was a part of it, it wasn’t just one person it was everybody who did it,” said Madeline Peterson, 5th grader.

The classroom which was recently completed cost $40,000 to build. Both Pederson and McCollister say seeing the classroom built and ready for use is the best reward for students.

“I helped raise money for the school and it felt good for me because we got to get extra equipment and all that for recess and add onto other classrooms,” said Jaxon Smith, 5th grader.

“It makes me feel good because it makes me feel like I can be included,” said Brady McCollister, 5th grader, said.

“I think it’s really exciting to finally say to the kids, ‘hey we made it, we finally (made it). We saved, we’ve stuck with it, we were patient. Now we have this beautiful outdoor classroom to show for it,'” Pederson said.

And this outdoor classroom is just the beginning.

“Just to see it all come together, to see the students’ faces when they realized it actually happened because of their hard work. I’m very proud of our school and of our students,” McCollister said.

The school has also raised money to add a book vending machine and a GaGa ball pit to the playground.