Jelly beans and children add up to fun at Ottawa Elementary

May 29, 2013

OTTAWA - 8,700 Jelly Beans + 174 excited children + 22 stations of fun-filled activities + numerous parent and student volunteers + one phys ed teacher adorned in her jelly bean vest = Ottawa Elementary’s 25th annual Jelly Bean Field Day!

In the mid-1980’s, Ottawa Elementary physical education teacher, Lita Siefker, looked for a new approach to the school’s physical education field day, an annual event for children in grades 1-4. She attended a workshop in Columbus, OH that gave her a new and innovative idea, that of a “Jelly Bean Field Day,” that first began at OE in 1989.

“Jelly Bean Field Day incorporates the activities emphasized in the (physical education) curriculum with the successful participation of every student, and offers a motivational reward system based on individual achievement,” Siekfer explained.

Instead of the traditional ribbons and trophies given only to a few gifted athletes, everyone who participates wins yummy colorful jelly beans. Another feature of this field day is that everyone is active most of the time, and there is no sitting in the hot sun for long periods of time watching others participate.

The set-up is similar to a carnival or fair. Stations are set up around the school’s playground and in the gymnasium. An adult volunteer is in charge of each station. Abby Trigg, a former OE student who observed at the school this year for college classes, was invited to man the “Football Throw Through The Basketball Hoop.”

“The kids really seem to like this,” she smiled. “I did, too!”

When the groups of approximately 10 children approach a station, they are given a task, ranging from simple to more difficult. The 50-yard dash, pull-ups, and the sponge relay are perennial favorites. Two of the more innovative stations featured a “Chopstick Chicken Relay” –groups were divided into two teams; each child used two doll rods to pick up and carry a rubber chicken to a coffee can, deposit the fowl in the can, pick it back out, and run it back to the next person in line- and “Junk in Your Trunk” – each child had an empty tissue box filled with ping pong balls tied to his/her waist, with the opening in the back; the object was to be the first to successfully shake out all the balls.

If the task is executed successfully, one or more jelly beans are awarded. After the students have traveled to all the stations, the jelly beans are tallied, the score sheet is presented to the banker, and the jelly beans are distributed.

Second grader, Demetrious Kaufman, exclaimed, “I got 45 jelly beans!” His favorite part of the day, though, was “hanging out with my friends, and not having to go to class!”

Initially, securing a sizeable number of jelly beans was a challenge for Siefker. She wrote to candy companies seeking donations (she was turned down because the companies were out of state), purchased jelly beans, locally, in bulk, and even had her parents, Charles and Eleanor Risser, import the candies from Florida where they vacationed. She eventually discovered the most economical method was to wait until after Easter when confections were marked down 75%. The largest number of jelly beans she has purchased was 16,500 in 2003.

Siefker’s parents acted as the bankers for many years; Charles found distribution was more efficient if the jelly beans were sorted into bags ahead of time. After Mr. Risser’s passing in 2010, Mrs. Risser performed banker duties in 2011.

Mary Bruskotter, a retired OE teacher, now acts as the chief jelly bean sorter and banker, with assistance from Cindy Lichtle, another retired OE teacher. Both women expressed their fondness for the event, and loved catching up with former students.

“Organization is a major factor for this field day,” Siefker described. “After 25 years, it has become a science. You learn each year what to improve, and I ask my helpers what they experienced that could help the field day next year.”

At this year’s field day, Siefker brought out a May 15, 1996 newspaper to show second-grader Natalie Bockrath. The story featured Natalie's father, Dennis Bockrath, who was a “Jelly Bean Field Day” participant that year.

“Now I know I’ve been around a long time,” Siefker laughed. “‘Jelly Bean Day’ is in its second generation!”