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Park School's kindergarten guiding students through their first year of school, outside the classroom

Cheryl Benzinger isn’t letting the challenges facing education right now take away from her students’ first year in school.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — School looks pretty different at the Park School in Amherst this year. No classrooms or walls. Each class meets at a shady spot under a tree. Instead of desks, there are yoga mats for the kids to sit on.  

"They come into school every day, they come right into the building. We get them ready to go outside for their first lesson, and from that point on, we're outside learning," Kindergarten Teacher Cheryl Benzinger told 2 On Your Side. 

Benzinger has worked at the school for 25 years and is one of its longest-tenured teachers. Now, she's guiding students who have never been to school before through a year that's hardly even taking place inside the building. 

"Really, the magic happened on the first day of school when the kids came in and they were so excited," she said. "We realized that we were really nervous about what was going on in the world today, but the children they were just happy."

The students spend the whole day outside, either in their outdoor classroom, or exploring the school's 34-acre campus on nature hikes. Even when the weather isn't very nice. 

"We've been outside on some pretty not nice days too," Cheryl said. "I think it's harder for us adults to do that. They love it, they're just happy to be here with their friends learning and having fun."

She's also learning new ways to make things feel normal, for both the kids, and their parents. 

"Even though they can't come in, or walk the children into the building we're sending them videos of things that are happening in class during the day. So what we're doing in school is really an extension of their home lives now too." 

You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can't take the classroom out of the teacher. 

"To me it's just another day in the classroom," she said. "I'm just I'm so excited that they're here and it's normal for me I'm just doing what I do every day and what I've been doing for 25 years."

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