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'I feel less lonely': Colorado students, schools reflect on year of Playworks amid pandemic

Playworks at Virginia Court Elementary School
Posted at 5:48 AM, Mar 31, 2022

AURORA, Colo. — All year, schools have been trying to rise to the challenge of transitioning students back into interacting with their peers.

Many of these schools turned to Playworks to help students ease pandemic trauma through play.

Playworks is a program that helps kids stay active and build valuable social and emotional skills through play.

As the end of the school year approaches, schools are starting to see how much of an impact the program is really having.

"We play like jump rope; red light, green light; soccer," said Thaily Diana Romero Quijada, a fifth grade coach for Playworks.

Quijada helps other students learn social skills through play at recess.

When the program first came to Aurora's Virginia Court Elementary School in October, Thaily says the pandemic was still weighing her down.

"I felt really kind of sad," she said. "I feel like I was lonely, apart from having my family."

Those are the kinds of feelings Assistant Principal Rachel Sellers says Aurora schools wanted to address.

"There were just some social skills that were missed because they were socially distanced from one another," Sellers said. "Last year, students weren’t able to come out and play on the playground as much and have that social interaction."

The program is now in 32 Aurora schools.

Playworks site specialists, like Caleb Wragge, guide the students through interactive games that can include everyone.

"I always thought that it gives kids the opportunity that, if they’re scared to join a group of kids, they’re scared to join a game, I’m there to encourage them," he said.

Sellers says from the beginning of the year to now, she's seen a shift in how the students behave and how they treat others.

"What we see in the hallways is the way they’re interacting with one another is changing. The way they’re interacting with us is changing," Sellers said. "It has just brought out a greater joy because they have that opportunity to try new things in a safe way."

For Quijada, that change is evident.

"I feel less lonely because I get to hang out with my friends at school," she said.

The social interaction doesn't have to stop just because the school year is almost over. Playworks will be offering summer programs in select schools.

Schools that already have Playworks can reach out about summer support at 720-616-6148.