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Paige Jansons, 10, from left, Laura Bolin, 9, and Joely Palmer, 9, enjoy their recess time Wednesday playing on the snow mound at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. While most of the children have no problem staying warm, the adult supervisors must make preparations for their stint in the cold. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Queens of the cold

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First of all, you need a good jacket, with a hood.

The hood is important, because it keeps your neck from getting cold and keeps cold air from going down your neck.

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And remember -- layers, layers, layers.

If you want advice on staying comfortable outdoors in the winter, talk to the people watching over a sea of children at a school playground.

The children come and go from recess at 15-minute intervals, but Rita Phillips and her coworkers are outside on their feet for most of the three hours it takes to cycle all of Kennedy Elementary's 900 students through lunch and recess.

"Keeping the head and neck covered is paramount," said Phillips, who has watched over playgrounds for the Willmar Public Schools for 23 years.

Students climb on big snow piles, use the swings and play football under the watchful eyes of Phillips, Mary Hinther, Pam Lippert and Vickie Eisenlohr. Lippert is the relative newcomer, with six years on the playgrounds. Hinther has worked on playgrounds for 17 years, and Eisenlohr for 16.

Before and after their stints outside, the women work in classrooms as paraprofessionals.

The kids don't seem to feel the cold, Phillips said. "Their energy keeps them warm." Children aren't sent outside to play if the temperature is zero or below, or if the wind chill is 10 below or colder.

Along with the hooded jacket, the women on the playground wear grown-up versions of the snow pants worn by the kids they watch.

Sunglasses are a must, they said, to protect their eyes from the glare off the snow.

After that, the cold weather gear is a matter of personal preference. Some wear wool socks; others don't. Long underwear is also a personal choice, depending on how a person tolerates cold and how cold it is.

Each had a word of advice for people who have to be outdoors in the cold.

Phillips said she favors thick gloves with an outer shell of nylon, which keeps out the wind.

"Layers is the key," Hinther offered.

Lippert repeated the advice about hoods and said a gaiter is another essential. It's a circular scarf that fits around the neck and can be pulled up to cover the face.

"This is the best part of my job," Eisenlohr said. She said she's found that a double layer of gloves keep her hands warm, but they can get too warm with that system, too.

Eisenlohr said she grew up on a farm and was used to spending a lot of time outside, so she doesn't feel the cold that much.

The women said many of the children they supervise don't go outdoors except for their 15 minutes at school. "It's good for them to get fresh air," Hinther said.

Phillips said she doesn't mind cold weather, and even prefers it to a cold wind chill. Working at Kennedy Elementary, in the middle of the city with the playground on the south side of the building, "is like Miami" compared to Roosevelt Elementary, she said. Roosevelt, where she started with the district, is in an open area with a playground on the north side of the building.

"Warm feet and warm hands" are important, "but you really have to have a warm heart because of all the children."

Forecasters warn of cold January

The AccuWeather.com website is warning that January could be the coldest one in more than 20 years.

Chief long-range forecaster Joe Bastardi says this month could turn out to be the coldest January for the nation as a whole since 1985. The country has not experienced this type of coast-to-coast cold since the 1980s, he said.

Record-breaking cold has been seen already this month in the western United States. The East and South have seen temperatures fall since the weekend.

Bastardi says that the northern Plains could face the coldest temperatures from Jan. 10-20.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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