Outdoor Learning Park in Watts offers make-shift classroom environment during pandemic

When COVID closed their classrooms, some students in Watts took the school to the park! They're learning and playing again thanks to a solution that might stay even after the pandemic.
WATTS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- When COVID closed their classrooms, these students just took the classroom to the park! They're learning and playing and making school fun again. It's a successful solution that might stay even after the pandemic.

There is hope in the Watts community, thanks to a make-shift oasis of learning and play. It's for children who may very well have been lost in the shuffle of online classes during the pandemic in a neighborhood that was already struggling with poverty and a lack of resources.

"At home, I was not paying attention too well, and over here I pay attention better," said 8-year-old Emanuel Hernandez.

Thirty to 50 young students come here every day to take his online school classes with a free iPad, access to the internet, and there are volunteers standing by to help.

"I like it here because like when you are on break you get to read a book or color or play soccer," said 7-year-old Candice Kello.

"I really like the structure and everything, it's a safe environment as well," said Cristina Vasques, Candice's mother.

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The Outdoor Learning Park opened its doors to the Imperial Park community over the summer. Siobhain Hill, a former principal with 22 years' experience, runs the day-to-day operation. But it all began with Lysa Heslov, who created the Children Mending Hearts foundation.

"We saw that there was a real need for these kids to have a place to learn, and so with the help of the city, thank you so much, we found this small building and this outdoor park where we could create a school," said Heslov.
It's a school with sports and exercise, a library and reading time and daily reminders to be kind.

Children Mending Hearts started about 12 years ago with a mission to promote empathy and kindness. It created a nationwide, elementary anti-bullying curriculum. But when they came to this community, they realized the kids needed not only a place to learn and grow but also good nutrition, like fresh fruit, so the program evolved.

"We listened and then we took action and realized oh they need more of that," said Hill.

Along with carts of snacks, students get daily breakfast and lunch.

"We're lucky to have friends like the Chuck Lorre foundation so that even on Fridays, they go home with two large bags of food so they can have it for Saturday and Sunday," said Hill. "So truly this has only happened because of so many friends of children mending hearts that came together and saw the need."

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