Welches students display their desired playsets at Hoodland Library reception

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Many Welches Elementary students were eager to show their parents what they'd created. Pipe-cleaner swing sets and popsicle stick tree houses were all the rage at Hoodland Public Library in Welches last Wednesday evening, March 22.

Multiple second-, third- and fifth-graders from Welches Elementary School played both architect and exhibit curator to their parents, excitedly showcasing their passion for their playground at the reception.

For the past six weeks, groups of Welches students have been collaborating in multi-grade groups to design and build model structures of their dream playgrounds through the Architecture Foundation of Oregon's (AFO) Architects in Schools program.

Some structures included features such as rock walls, slides, parkour equipment, monkey bars and — very popular among creators — merry-go-rounds and treehouses. Both are designed to break away from the norm and allow for more group play.

Many of these wish-list wonders were depicted through popsicle sticks, paper towel rolls, pipe cleaners, tissue paper, styrofoam and a few outdoor supplies like pebbles and pine needles.

"I think there's a lot of learning that has been done," second- and third-grade teacher Sara King explained. As a teacher of a blended class, she was already aware of the benefits of multi-grade collaboration, noting that the older students were a great source of hands-on skill and experience for the imaginative younger students.

"To me, the blending of the grade levels was a bonus," she said. "Any time I think we can get the different grade levels together, we just get a richer creative experience."

The intention of the project was partly to find out what students wanted most regarding options for play, and to get them thinking critically and creatively.

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Cardboard creations and pipe cleaner pieces featured prominently among students' designs."It's about getting the kids thinking about their space," Principal Kendra Payne explained. "Making the design process personal for them."

The reception also proved quite a learning experience for the students.

"It gives some kids the experience if that public exposure," she added.

King is hopeful the students' work will not be in vain.

"The hope is that some of these design ideas will be used to inspire a more comprehensive design," she said.

For mechanical engineer Roger Arnold, who guided the students through their six-week project, this was a new experience. Arnold is new to AFO and to working with children.

"I got involved as a way to get more involved in the community," he says. "I think my biggest surprise — I don't have kids and I'm not around kinds much — I'm used to some very rigid or structured protocol, (so) I was completely thrilled at how passionate, eager and open kids were to discussing their ideas."

So thrilled, in fact, that he's hooked and hopes to work more with AFO in the future.

For Arnold at a young age, the engagement and interest of his educators truly affected his path, and now he enjoys knowing he might be so influential and helpful — and show students that engineering can be fun.

"One of the things I think back to when I was a kid and what got me into architecture was having access to something that I didn't have access to at home," he explained. "It only takes one person at some point in your life to impact career choices. … To me, I think that was the best: being able to offer an opportunity."

The students' playgrounds of dreams will be on public display amongst the stacks at Hoodland Public Library, 24525 E. Welches Road, until Monday, April 3. It will be available for viewing again for members of the school at an upcoming Welches Elementary open house.

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