Photos by J. Geil/Staff photographer

Susan McNish doesn’t normally conduct lessons with her Lincoln Elementary School fifth graders outdoors.

But since the start of the school year, McNish and her class of about 20 students have sometimes left their mobile classroom unit in the school’s parking lot and enjoyed the fresh air. The mobile unit, which has two classrooms, is being used by two teachers and their students but just for the current school year due to overcrowding in the main building. The school will begin renovations next spring to expand permanent classroom space.

Lincoln, 1111 S. Grove Ave., has seen enrollment grow steadily the last four years, due recently, in large part, to the district expanding its kindergarten program to a full day. Lincoln’s enrollment has climbed from 509 in 2008 to 578 this year.

An addition will be built to the building’s south side along Grove Avenue to address crowding. The school had to juggle a few classrooms and office space in order to accommodate the construction, which is expected to begin in March. The mobile unit was paid for with federal stimulus money Dist. 97 received.

McNish, a 20 year teaching veteran in the district, and another teacher volunteered to work in the mobile unit. But it isn’t some shabby shanty, McNish insists.

“It’s been really pleasant. It’s air-conditioned, which our class normally is not, so they seem to enjoy it,” she said.

The unit is not attached to the building due to fire safety codes. The classrooms also have heat, telephones, and Internet and intercom access to the main building; boys and girls have their own separate bathrooms. A teaching assistant works in the unit to escort students into the building for any special classes like music. No kids are ever left alone outside the unit, said Principal Catherine Hamilton.

Overall reaction to the unit, she adds, has been positive, from parents and kids. Initially, the possibility of a mobile unit worried some parents, who feared that the temporary quarters would be used for special needs kids. Hamilton said the classrooms were never designated for special ed or primary grade students. She said she doesn’t know how those rumors started. She recalled having “a lot of meetings” with the PTO about who would be in the classrooms — smaller kids were never going to be considered, Hamilton said. “How that got to where it did I really don’t know.”

Hamilton asked her faculty for volunteers to teach in the unit. Then the school hosted an open house at the unit before school started. Hamilton said no parent asked that their kids not be in the mobile classroom.

Students in the main building, however, are a little envious.

“They’ve been curious about it because it looks like a lot of fun,” Hamilton said.

As for the kids who are out there, Hamilton said, “The kids love it. They think they’ve won the lottery. The other kids are asking how they can sign up to be out there.”

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