Catherine Losavio, Morgan, Johnny W.
(11/05/20) BATON ROUGE, La. — Due to COVID-19 precautions, students across Louisiana have been unable to use outdoor playground equipment during the school day. To ensure that students still have access to fun physical activity, the LSU AgCenter SNAP-Ed and Healthy Communities programs have teamed up with community partners to stencil painted play spaces across the state.
“I offered stencils to all our parish schools, and Ruston Elementary took me up on the offer,” said Cathy Judd, LSU AgCenter agent in Lincoln Parish. “The principal thought the stencils would be a great way for the students to get exercise and social distance.”
Judd partnered with principal Mandy Brown, parent and family volunteers, and LSU AgCenter agent Kimberlyn Jones to paint a rocket-themed hopscotch game, a “mirror me” dancing activity and an obstacle course full of fun physical activities.
“When I walked outside, I was so happy,” said one third grader at Ruston Elementary. “There were so many new things for me to do. I even made a new friend on the obstacle course.”
Their neighbors in Bienville Parish decided to join in on the fun by starting stencil projects of their own at Castor High School and Crawford Elementary School. Jones worked with the school administrations, parent volunteers, Judd and Bienville Parish 4-H junior leaders to turn the idea into reality.
“Since the pandemic, our teachers have been having a hard time with outside play because of social distancing,” said Joy-Dee Wallace, Castor High School principal. “This gives our elementary students something fun to do during recess and has boosted the morale of the school.”
More than 250 miles southeast at Amite High Magnet School in Tangipahoa Parish, AgCenter nutrition educator Donna Landry, teacher Lionel Braud, paraprofessional Denesia Harrell and a group of self-contained special education students used stencils to create a physical education space right outside the classroom.
“Self-contained special education teachers need to think outside the box when it comes to the learning needs of our students,” Braud said. “In addition to being kinesthetic, the activities utilize numbers through hand, eye and foot coordination. Improving reflexes can further engender better coordination in the workplace, such as improving the ability to multitask.”
St. John Parish government partnered with the AgCenter to paint stencils in the Thomas Daley Park and the 14 other parks in St. John Parish, said AgCenter nutrition agent Cynthia Clifton.
Clifton contacted Parish President Jaclyn Hotard to offer painting the stencils in the park for the children and adults who walk there daily. “President Hotard was very excited in having the stencils painted in the parks,” she said.
Hotard directed Clifton to the director of parks and recreation Michael Sanders, who jumped on the idea with excitement.
Clifton received help from Sanders, parish employees and Healthy St. John Community Coalition members to paint the stencils in the parks,
Some of the walkers who passed by while they were painting the stencils stopped to say thanks for enhancing their park and some even took pictures.
“Healthy St. John Community Coalition first brought this idea up because of the COVID-19 pandemic since people could not go to the gym and community center anymore,” Clifton said. “This was one way of giving back to the community the exercise that the community was missing due to the pandemic.”
Back up north in Ouachita Parish, AgCenter personnel partnered with Ascent Monroe, Well-Ahead Louisiana, United Way of Northeast Louisiana, Families Helping Families, Ouachita Parish Schools Child Nutrition Program and the Louisiana Department of Health to bring stencils to four schools in Monroe and West Monroe. Now students at Lakeshore Elementary, Kiroli Elementary, Pinecrest Elementary and Middle, and Central Elementary will be able to incorporate the colorful fitness stations and games into their school day.
“Healthy Communities is all about making the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Cathy Agan, AgCenter agent and Ouachita Parish Healthy Communities Coalition facilitator. “We wanted children to be active and have fun even with the pandemic precautions in place. Stenciling on playgrounds and walking tracks adds fun activities that children can enjoy even while social distancing.”
It’s not just schools that are taking advantage of the painted stencils. Several public spaces across the state have received the same physical fitness upgrade such as Goodyear Park in Bogalusa, Vermilion Parish Library in Abbeville, Washington Parish Library in Franklinton and Henrietta Johnson Community Center in Monroe.
“Youth need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, with the majority of that occurring during the school day,” said Jessica Stroope, AgCenter physical activity specialist. “Painted stencils are a great, low-cost way to transform a regular concrete slab into a makeshift playground.”
Volunteers paint exercise stencils next to the playground at Ruston Elementary. Photo by Cathy Judd/LSU AgCenter
Bienville Parish 4-H junior leaders add a variety of colorful stencils to the bus loop at Castor High School. Photo by Kimberlyn Jones/LSU AgCenter
Paraprofessional Denesia Harrell, Tangipahoa Parish AgCenter nutrition educator Donna Landry, teacher Lionel Braud and two Amite High Magnet School special education students wait for stencils to dry. Photo provided by Amite High
Robot hopscotch stenciled by volunteers on a concrete slab at Lakeshore Elementary School. Photo by Cathy Agan/LSU AgCenter