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Singing in the great outdoors Galena Primary School music teacher holds class outside during pandemic

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GALENA–Those driving past Galena Primary School recently may have seen learning taking place in a unique setting. Kerri Rijpma, Galena Primary School music teacher, is one of many to take their classrooms outside since school began in August.

“The students and I have been enjoying the beautiful weather,” said Rijpma. “In addition, because we are socially distanced when outside, we also are able to take a mask break during many activities.”

Rijpma has made many changes to her class due to the pandemic but has tried to retain as many parts of her curriculum as possible.

“Over the summer, I did lots of planning to be prepared for in-person and remote learning situations,” said Rijpma. “I made some new lesson units based on being outdoors, and modified existing curriculum to be outdoor-friendly for the fall months. Units that can be taught outdoors are planned for the fall and spring months, and other units that require technology are planned for winter months.”

Another change that Rijpma has instituted this year is the addition of individual music kits for students in kindergarten through second grade. This kit eliminates the problem of shared instruments and materials. Each student’s kit includes a portable frisbee that is used as a drum head, a scarf and a beat buddy, a tiny stuffed animal they use to keep the beat.

“Learning outside has provided more space to spread out which has been especially helpful during singing activities,” said Rijpma. “After reading many studies this summer, I am following the recommendations of multiple music specific aerosol studies and only having students sing outside with masks on while socially distanced. Going outdoors has allowed me to keep these activities in the curriculum for the fall and spring months.”

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There have also been challenges that Rijpma and other educators have had to overcome as a result of taking their classrooms outside.

“One of the very first challenges I faced transitioning to having class outdoors was gathering all the technology I needed for outdoor learning,” said Rijpma. “I had to get a Bluetooth portable speaker as well as a small voice amplification system so I could be heard outdoors. I also found that I needed a way to bring the supplies for each class outside. Music Boosters helped me out by purchasing a rolling organizer that has room for the supplies for the entire day. In addition, I am working to reorganize lesson units for the year. My lesson units that utilize technology, such as a smart projector, will be taught during the winter months when we will be inside.”

Rijpma is in the process of also instituting new lessons to her curriculum.

“A new activity that I added this year for third and fourth grade is a line dancing unit,” said Rijpma. “This unit is working on feeling the beat as students must complete the dance moves together on the beat in order to stay in their lines. The students are having a lot of fun with it. Many shared they were excited to learn the dances because some campgrounds have line dancing nights. To my surprise, some students told me they have been practicing at recess. In addition to line dancing, I am also implementing some new activities to use with our instrument kits. I am also working on some new music history and music theory units as well as listening projects for the winter months.”

Through all of these challenges, Rijpma has been most impressed with the students’ resiliency.

“Overall, I would say that there have been many changes this school year, but I can’t say enough how impressed I am with our students,” said Rijpma. “They have been flexible, willing to try new things and have had a wonderful attitude about all the changes.”

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