Courtyard Classrooms

Courtyard Classrooms

Classroom space is prime real estate for school districts complying with New York State social-distancing regulations, but Wantagh PTA organizations and the district itself had the foresight to redevelop internal courtyards prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. At Mandalay, Forest Lake and Wantagh elementary schools, courtyards have been a valuable asset for teachers and students who take learning outside on a daily basis. 

Former Mandalay PTA President Irene Hudson explained that reallocation of funds, a Class of 2020 fund donation and parent gifts have facilitated the construction of a vibrant outdoor learning space that includes a large, paved patio, sun-shading, bright colored chairs for classroom instruction and outdoor lunches, and a rock garden inspired by Linda Kranz’s book “Only One You.”

Ms. Hudson said the PTA is currently fundraising for a third courtyard. “It takes a lot of time and there is expense involved, but in the end these courtyards are forever,” she said.

At Forest Lake, classes receive a weekly opportunity to utilize the courtyard space. On the  back wall of one of its courtyards is painted a motivational Dr. Seuss mural which touts the ability to find magic in reading. A picnic table and Adirondack chairs are spread out for classroom instruction or lunchtime socialization. In a separate courtyard, school funding previously financed the building of a sensory garden for special education students. The sensory garden is equipped with a magnetic chalk wall, a brick sensory walk, a ribbon wind curtain, tire bouncing station and kitchen gadget music station, as well as special hanging chairs.  

Plantings, artificial turf and a long, paved walkway allows teachers to monitor fully-distanced students in the Wantagh Elementary courtyard during instruction. In addition to this new, aesthetically-pleasing learning space, the PTA painted seven mind and movement pods on the blacktop recess area adjacent to the playground. The colorful square spaces are used for a combination of directional problem-solving and physical activity exercises. Assistant Principal Briana James explained that there are enough pods so that each grade can host a mind and movement activity simultaneously. 

“It’s a great way for the students to stretch their minds and their muscles,” Ms. James said.