Taking school outside at John Harris Elementary

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Students are back in school at John Harris Elementary in Sioux Falls.

While the kids are getting used to new pandemic rules in the classroom, they’re also being surprised by fresh additions to the playground.

It’s been a long summer for some students and you might be surprised to hear this but many, like fifth-grader Kasten Dede, could not wait to be back in school. His first day back was this last Friday.

“I was so excited because I’ve just been so bored with COVID. Just been watching TV and stuff. I was wanting it to be Friday on Thursday because I was just playing Fortnite all day,” Dede said.

Dede is putting down Fortnite and picking up his school books and relationships with old friends.

“Just being able to see all your friends. I’m looking forward to art and gym and recess,” Dede said.

Lucky for him, recess is getting an upgrade this year. While he prefers to play basketball and football, there are a whole host of new activities outside at John Harris.

“Paintings and stuff to play on. Ladder golf, chutes and ladders, chess,” Dede said.

“Kids love to be outside. Nature is very calming and healing for our students beyond the four walls of the classrooms. Pandemic or not, it’s really a benefit to all of the students that we have,” librarian Stefanie Hage said.

Hage says over the summer, a lot of effort was put in by staff and John Harris families to bring new recess options and a new outdoor classroom to life.

“Right now it’s operating more on a small group so we can maintain that social distancing,” Hage said.

“I think our original intention was to have whole groups of classes and just like everything else, we’re modifying,” Hage said.

Instructional Coach Cindy Breen says the classroom and activities provide structure for the kids while they’re outside and every space is purposeful.

“It’s wonderful. When they have to wear their masks inside but they can come out here and take them off and they can run and play and there’s all these new places. They can have a quiet spot in the outdoor classroom. They can come and get more active in some of the new painted areas. It’s wonderful,” Breen said.

It’s already getting some positive feedback from the kids and staff. The playground is also broken down into zones this year with lines separating each group.

“Really now we’re just separating kids and keeping them within their small groups, kind of their cohort of learners. It allows us to practice social distancing a little bit better and they get to stay with that same group. They also get a really big variety in the activities that they have out here which is key to keeping them engaged and having fun outside,” Hage said.

The only thing in competition with the bright colors on the playground are young Dede’s back to school kicks.

Matt Holsen: Anything you want to say about your new shoes?

Dede: No. (laughs)

Matt Holsen: Your parents were calling these the banana shoes.

Dede: Yeah I can believe that.

The shoes and the playground are just some of the shiny new things hitting John Harris this year. A year where staff and students are just glad to be reunited.

“I hope that COVID goes away by the end of the year so everything can go back to normal,” Dede said.

“You could really feel the stress levels lift and the joy in the teachers and the kids. We’re here together and that’s our theme this year, ‘together.’ You can just really feel that everyone is so happy to be back together,” Breen said.

While students will be in zones during recess, they’ll get to switch zones each day to keep things fresh.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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