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Field day accentuates teamwork, friendship

The day, based on the popular Harry Potter series, includes physical and educational activities that don't require competition or athleticism.

By LORRI HELFAND

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2001


CLEARWATER -- Phyllis Coles' first- and second-graders dip tennis rackets in buckets of sudsy water as they dash up a grassy hill followed by waves of billowing bubbles.

Barbara Hawkins' fourth- and fifth-graders hurl a flurry of foam-stuffed yellow balls over a volleyball net as they act out an imaginary snowball fight.

And Donna Forsyth's third-graders sit in a circle on the floor of the classroom, bathed in black light, as they mold clay figures and learn about the healing power of friendship.

This is not your usual elementary school field day.

It is the Harry Potter Extravaganza at Belcher Elementary School. And there will be no winners and no losers.

That is just the way physical education teacher Kay Glass likes it. She planned the event, based on the wildly popular series of Harry Potter books by British author J.K. Rowling, to be packed with physical and educational activities that all of her students could enjoy. It doesn't matter how athletic they are.

"They love it because everybody can participate," Glass said. "They're not worried about Joe Jock winning a race."

Kyle Mullins, 10, who was gearing up for a stilt walk, thought Glass had the right idea.

"I like that because it's not really competing. It doesn't put that much pressure on you," he said.

Glass kicked off the festivities dressed as a wizard. Other teachers dressed the part, too. Karen White, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages, dressed as Madame Pomfrey, a nurse from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Several students also got in the spirit.

Angela Kruth, 10, donned a periwinkle gown. For her, dressing as Harry Potter's friend, Hermione, was second nature.

"I read all four of the books -- twice," she said.

Even though a competitive atmosphere wasn't pushed, students were eager to work together to do their best.

Alyssa Cory, 10, crowed proudly about her group's performance at the Sorcerer's Stone station.

" We worked as a whole team and beat the record at 55 seconds," she said.

Glass, who has been teaching physical education for 36 years, said she never wants kids to be intimidated or turned off by the idea of physical activity. In fact, Belcher Elementary does not grade physical education students on skill at all. They are only graded on conduct.

Glass feels it is most important to foster enthusiasm in the early years. That's why she brainstormed all summer to find a theme that the kids would really get into. She even read one of the Harry Potter books so she could pattern 13 different activities on events in the book.

In the spirit of the Quidditch Game, a wizards' favorite, Glass concocted a takeoff on air hockey using Hula Hoops and whisk brooms. To simulate a search for the sorcerer's stone, she created a scavenger hunt using multicolored Easter eggs hidden under traffic cones. And to celebrate Harry's introduction to wizardry, she created a game using plastic bowling pins and Frisbees.

Fifth-grade teacher Ed Purdy applauded Glass' creativity and said that the variety of activities would give kids ideas for activities to do on their own.

"They can make games up out of a lot of different things. They don't have to be expensive, and they don't have to be on a computer," he said.

Glass makes community involvement a priority. She called a senior citizens center to book a magic act for the event.

Elaine Cutler, the district's director of elementary education, also stopped by to check out the action.

"I'm really impressed," she said. "It's not just P.E. It's magic and music and friendship."

But the ultimate praise came from Kathy Perkins, whose children Tyler, 10, and Casey, 8, attend Belcher.

"This is without a doubt the best field day we have ever had. These kids are having a blast," she said.

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