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School And Tribe Officials Get Creative While Contending With Social Distancing On Playgrounds

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Maggie Nelson/KUCB
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Over the weekend, the Qawalangin Tribe helped paint obstacles and activities at the  Eagle's View Elementary Achigaaluxplayground. The painted courses are intended to help students maintain social distancing while outside, as a means to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Unalaska schools will reopen Wednesday, Aug. 19 and students are expected to maintain six feet of distance between one another when possible, even when outside for recess. Whereas student desks have been positioned six feet from each other in the building, and plexiglass barriers sit atop cafeteria tables, outside on the playground, no similar guidance existed, until Friday afternoon.

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"We're painting routes that would let kids be really mobile and not necessarily super close together," said Kate Arduser, Qawalangin Tribe wellness program manager. "It adds a lot of direction to the playground."

"We've done a lot of changes into the inside of the building," said Principal Chad Eichenlaub. "And then the playground was one area we were worried about as well—just making sure that kids were still able to have fun and be safe and have some distance away from each other." 

Eichenlaub said he reached out to the tribe's wellness program manager, Kate Arduser, to seek assistance in rethinking the outdoor space at the school.

"We're painting routes that would let kids be really mobile and not necessarily super close together," said Arduser. "It adds a lot of direction to the playground." 

Arduser said they're using bright colors and dynamic game and course designs to keep the kids distracted from moving back into normal habits of being near one another. The designs incorporate games the students are used to seeing, but on a safely distanced and larger scale. 

"Here's hopscotch. So this is a single individual activity, but we're expanding that," explained Arduser, motioning toward another fluorescent ladder-like sketch on the ground. "And this is actually almost like a relay that two kids could participate in." 

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So far, the tribe and the school have come up with about five different game and course designs, ranging in size. Even in a large, open space like the playground, Eichenlaub said officials at the school have had to revise their approach to organizing students and even curricula, but he’s hoping these painted courses will help them maximize space and effort at the school. 

 

"There's lots of really neat stuff out there that I would like to incorporate on the playground," said Eichenlaub. "And some of it will help with instruction as well, and help facilitate some of the needs that maybe we can't meet in our PE classes anymore, and just give us some additional space we can use." 

Eichenlaub said he's thankful for the help from the tribe, especially considering the fast-approaching first day of school. And Arduser was similarly appreciative of the chance to help kids get moving in productive ways, and for the enthusiasm her team showed on the sunny evening.

"I think the leadership at the tribe has encouraged me to look at ways that we can help community members, and this feels like a very tangible way to do that," said Arduser. "And I've been really thrilled with the commitment of staff—it's actually been a pretty long day for us and the attitude is good, and I feel lucky to work with these people."

 

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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