Outdoor classroom provides refuge at Decas Elementary School

Nov 10, 2020

Operating an elementary school during the coronavirus pandemic was never going to be easy, but the teachers and staff at John W. Decas Elementary School have found creative ways to keep students engaged and safe. The school’s outdoor spaces have been crucial in achieving that goal.

The elementary school has made use of its ample yard space, its courtyard and its new outdoor classroom — a large event tent with some tables and chairs underneath — since the beginning of the school year.

“I feel blessed to have so much [outdoor] space here,” said Principal Bethany Chandler. 

The rental tent for the outdoor classroom tent was donated to the school by Daniel Chase, from Chase Canopy in Mattapoisett. Chase also loaned the use of a tent to the Middle School and Minot Forest Elementary. 

“We’re trying to get everybody through covid as best we can,” Chase said. “The schools have been great.”

Students use the outdoor classroom and other outdoor spaces for a number of socially distanced activities, including bucket drumming, games during physical education class, and obstacle courses. The staff has been very creative about inventing safe games for the kids to participate in, Chandler said.

On Friday, preschoolers and kindergarten students jammed out on bucket drums to kid-friendly hits like “Happy” by Pharell, “I Like to Move It” (as featured in the Madagascar movie), and “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars.

Kids carefully executed a variety of dance moves, tapped out rhythms on the drums, and ran in circles through crunchy fall leaves. 

The school still isn’t using the playground equipment because of covid-19 safety concerns, but students still have recess time to play outside and do other activities.

Chandler said that using the outdoor spaces as much as possible has become part of standard operating procedure.

“We made accommodations, but I think it’s becoming part of our every day — the way we do business in order to support our students the best way we know how,” she said. “And keeping them safe, happy and wanting to be here at school every day.”

Chandler hopes, as long as it’s not too cold, to be able to continue outdoor activities throughout the winter months, she said. 

“It might be shorter times out, but we’ll try to be as creative as possible,” Chandler said. “I mean there’s a lot of outdoor winter activities … It’s just going to be important that our children are dressed appropriately and whatnot.”

Chandler said she’s very proud of the staff and students for how they’re adapting to everything and continuing to find joy at school.

“We have fun here at Decas school,” said Chandler. “We do have fun here.”