It may only have three letters, but it has many uses.

By Rachel Shuster | 12 Days of Giving, all school

When it opened as an addition to the Fieldhouse in 2005, the Johnson Athletic Center was intended as just that: a hub for athletics at Prairie. 

For 15 years, the JAC has consistently gains the ooh’s and aah’s of Prairie families and visiting spectators alike. The space even transforms into “party central” each spring for Prairie Premiere.

These days, the JAC is serving yet another purpose: home to the 5th and 6th grade classrooms. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prairie teachers and students connected virtually to finish out the spring 2020 semester. Over the summer, school leaders did what they do best, collaborating to find a better solution. In order to allow for more space and observe grade-level silos, Prairie’s 5th and 6th grade teachers transitioned their desks, books, posters, projectors, microscopes, protractors, and all other materials into makeshift classroom spaces around the JAC. 

For the time being, Joy Aragones teaches Science on one of the rounded ends of the indoor track. It’s not the state-of-the-art lab space that she or her students are used to — but she’s making it work. 

“I am grateful for all of the open space, enough to work labs and activities,” Aragones shares. “We do so much group work usually, and I have had to reimagine what that looks like now. We also do a lot of work outside when we can, to mitigate risk. It has given me a new appreciation of our space and what our campus has to offer.”

English with Ali Gasser now takes place on the edge of the basketball court, across the way from Science and within earshot of the Atrium, where Social Studies takes place. Gasser says along with summer preparations and organizing her space, the way her students complete basic everyday tasks has looked different, too, based on the impact to their five senses.

“I will say, I was worried about the noise level,” Gasser admits. “Some days are more challenging than others, but overall we are making it work. With the seasonal change, we notice that the sun shines on us at different times of day, so kids have to adjust where they are sitting, but that’s working okay, too!”

“The hardest part for me was discussing novels with kids when we have a book we are reading together — sometimes the kids can’t all hear the discussion,” she adds. “I found that if I take them in the back hall of the JAC and we sit on the floor in a horseshoe shape [distanced of course], we have much better discussion. It’s cozier and it feels a little bit like my classroom space back in the main building.”

Kelly Christensen teaches math in — of all places — the Dance Studio, facing the windows overlooking the track and the main JAC floor. Christensen says she has worked to adapt her classroom technology and regular activities to make use of her new space; mid-semester, they practiced measuring distance and velocity with paper airplanes! And she says the students have made the move quite nicely. 

“They seem to love it here,” she smiles. “The 5th graders have transitioned from being in one classroom all day [as 4th graders] to exploring the entire JAC, which is fun for them. Anything new is exciting, and they have done a nice job with the responsibility of it all.”


During this year’s 12 Days of Giving, we will introduce you to a few more People of Prairie, and look forward to sharing some of the relationships that help define our community. You can support this year’s 12 Days of Giving campaign and help grow inspiration and creativity all across campus with a gift to the Prairie Fund.