BEMIDJI -- Students at Schoolcraft Learning Community are finally getting the chance to play hard -- after five years of fundraising, research and hard work.

There’s a new playground at the school, and it’s been a long time coming.

Third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Schoolcraft have all participated at one point in time in learning about the mental and physical health benefits of play, conducting surveys, fundraising, researching playgrounds and designing ideal play structures.

Now it has come to fruition.

On Monday, the children put the new equipment to the test. Around mid-morning, third-graders sprinted out of the building, eager to give the swings, slides and climbing structures a try.

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The consensus among the students -- the piece of equipment they dubbed “the spinny thing” was the best.

Gavin Eickman sits in the middle of what students dubbed "the spinny thing" while Will McKeon hangs on Monday at the new playground at Schoolcraft Learning Community. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Gavin Eickman sits in the middle of what students dubbed "the spinny thing" while Will McKeon hangs on Monday at the new playground at Schoolcraft Learning Community. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

Expeditionary learning

“At our expeditionary learning school, our second and third-graders do a semester-long study on the benefits of play on the brain, and what kinds of playgrounds are the most beneficial,” said Adrienne Eickman, director of Schoolcraft Learning Community. “For five years, we have been fundraising for a playground in the hopes that the kids’ research could come to life.”

Schoolcraft’s expeditions work as an encompassing theme through which to view the other lessons of the semester.

For example, during the "play" expedition, math was practiced through playground data collection, research and budgeting, reading about the benefits of play, public speaking through fundraising and presentation efforts, art through the design of models of ideal play structures and physical education through playground field trips and testing.

This spring, the children settled on the theme: “Slides, Swings, and Climbing Things.” “We really want stuff to spin on, we really want stuff to climb on, we really want a slide,” Eickman said the students mentioned in their designs.

Teachers Sara Godding and Stephanie Hoffman said the amount of time invested by students into the construction of the playground has led to a deep sense of ownership.

“Their investment level in this is so great,” Godding said.

Schoolcraft students had a hand in almost every part of the playground design process. One student even chose where to place the welcome sign on construction day. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)
Schoolcraft students had a hand in almost every part of the playground design process. One student even chose where to place the welcome sign on construction day. (Hannah Olson / Bemidji Pioneer)

Currently, Schoolcraft students are under a hybrid learning model, with half of the children in the building at any given time. This has led to a bigger emphasis on outside play and learning than usual, Eickman explained, but noted that outside learning has always been a big focus for Schoolcraft, with forest school classes held weekly.

“We’re really connected to the outdoors and nature,” she said.

The charter school was founded in 2000, and for 17 years, was located on the Concordia Language Villages campus. In all that time, the students at Schoolcraft never had a playground, Eickman explained.

Three years ago, Schoolcraft relocated to its current location on Deer School Road, about 15 miles northwest of Bemidji.

And after that the playground became a possible reality.

The playground was constructed on Friday, which took about nine hours and the people-power of around 50 Schoolcraft community members.