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Jackson Elementary celebrates 60 years with outdoor classroom

Published: Friday, May 3, 2013 2:24 p.m. CDT
(Matthew Piechalak -
Fifth grader Zikora Nnam splatters paint on a painting as her classmates watch during an art appreciation lesson in the new outdoor classroom at Jackson Elementary School, 925 Swain Ave. in Elmhurst on Tuesday. The outdoor classroom was a joint project of the PTA and the student council to celebrate the school's 60th anniversary.

ELMHURST – In a moment of unison, two-dozen fifth-graders erupted in a single “Yay!” when their teacher, Sandy Laszkiewicz, asked whether they wanted to do their art project in their outdoor classroom.

A collaborative effort between the Student Council and the Parent Teacher Association, Jackson Elementary School dedicated its outdoor classroom on April 25 to celebrate the school’s 60th anniversary.

“My dad went here,” said JJ Hennessy, a fifth-grader in Linda Schneider’s class and a Student Council member. “I think it’s cool that I’m in the same place that he was, like, 30 years ago.”

Schneider and Laszkiewicz, teacher sponsors of the Student Council, helped students organize fundraisers, such as collecting box tops and a pumpkin-decorating contest for teachers, to go toward the classroom.

“We sold just recently magnets and tattoos,” said Melissa Cartis, a Student Council representative and fifth-grader in Schneider’s class.

The students raised about $8,000, which provided trash cans and picnic tables in the space. The Jackson PTA sold more than 200 engraved bricks and also raised money during the two carnivals the organization puts on each year.

Students, meanwhile, funded a brick to commemorate each of this year’s classes.

“We get kids involved in every aspect of school that’s possible,” said Laszkiewicz.

Signature Lawn Corp. did the brick-paving work at just the cost of materials while Erwin Steinhebel & Sons, Inc. donated the landscaping.

“It was a community effort,” said PTA president Casey Braun.

Kickoff for Kids, an Elmhurst-focused charity, awarded Jackson a $2,500 Diane La Spisa Memorial Grant for the outdoor classroom.

While Jackson Elementary has changed during the last 60 years in Elmhurst, the community seems to maintain a loyal connection.

“For me, I think it is seeing the people that still feel so attached to the school,” said Schneider, who has been teaching at Jackson for 18 years. “I think that was evident in all the people that came back [for the anniversary], the former teachers and principals and students.”

Laszkiewicz remembers teaching in a mobile classroom for three of her 22 years at Jackson. Three additions later, she’s happy to have her own classroom.

“Teachers who are here tend to stay because it’s such a great place,” she said.

While a parent volunteer, Mary Jane Schermer, led an art lesson on abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, students from Laszkiewicz’s class filled the new picnic benches of the outdoor classroom and answered questions in the sunshine.

Although the school’s physical space has transformed, certain aspects of the education there stay the same.

“I think fundamentally, 10-year-olds still have the same wants and needs and behaviors,” Schneider said. “They still love school. They still love their teacher.”

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