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Kindergarteners enjoy outdoor learning in Nahant

Johnson School kindergartener Charlie Dam creates an owl by using leaves gathered from the surrounds of the school during an outdoor art class on Friday. (Spenser Hasak)

NAHANT — Attending art class outside was a treat, not a COVID-19 drawback, for a class of nearly 20 kindergarteners at Johnson Elementary School Friday. 

Spaced out neatly on the pavement next to the school’s outdoor classroom, the students waited patiently inside hula hoops as their teacher, Diana Brandi, passed out materials for the day’s assignment, which consisted of gluing dry leaves to a paper owl outline to create a feather-like effect. 

 “It’s been beautiful out lately and we’ve really been able to take advantage of that,” said classroom assistant Britte Roossien. “They love being outside, and personally, I think the more time kids get to spend in the outdoors, the better.”

As one of only 13 schools in the state to open fully for in-person learning last month, principal Kevin Andrews said he’s been grateful for the district’s resources.

Thanks to a small student population and ample classroom space, Johnson Elementary School was able to offer Nahant families the flexibility to choose for themselves whether they wanted their child to attend school with fully online or fully in-person instruction. 

Andrews said that for his in-person students, the sense of normalcy has been welcome. 

“They’re thrilled, they really are,” he said. “I’m just really glad that we’re able to reach both in-person and at-home learners using the resources that we have at the school, including space and excellent teachers.”

If at any point families find either option isn’t working for them, Nahant’s flexible model will still allow students to switch, as long as the school is given a two-week notice. 

“We have a wonderful staff that’s really working hard with all the students at the school,” he said, adding. “(The kids) are all wearing their masks every day and being very respectful of the safety and health requirements. I find that they’re really taking it seriously, and in a nice, mature way.”

When it comes to running her classes, Brandi, who returned to teaching this fall after a several-year hiatus, hasn’t let the myriad safety measures prevent her from sharing her love of nature with students. 

A member of the Nahant Garden Club, Brandi said she was excited at the prospect of being able to incorporate environmentally-minded teachings into her day-to-day curriculum. 

“I’m trying to get them to look at things in a different way,” she said before gesturing to the owls her kindergarten class was making. “I just love this leaf art. They can (work with the leaves), they can look at them and smell them.

“We’re trying to instill in them that nature is something we want to live with in a healthy way.”

She did add that even with her nature-focused curriculum, being forced to hold class outside has presented its share of challenges. 

“It’s really tough,” Brandi said. “There are things you can’t prepare for, like if it rains.”

However, she’s still looking ahead to better — and warmer — days. 

“We’re going to be painting a boat later on in the spring and then filling it with prairie flowers to put outside of the school,” she said. “We have a lot of fun things outside planned for the kids.”



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