WESSINGTON SPRINGS — While students across South Dakota grappled last week with the adjustment of school closures in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vicki Harmdierks offered a creative way to pass the time.

Harmdierks, who retired from her position as principal of Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary in Mitchell in 2019 after a 35-year education career, assembled about 50 wood block painting kits last week, which could be picked up from a crate on her Wessington Springs front porch by anyone interested. Since her retirement, Harmdierks has been substitute teaching, which was halted when schools closed last week.

"That's what I decided to do just to have my connection. Because it was really the first time it hit me that I don't have a classroom. I don't have any connection with kids," Harmdierks told The Daily Republic on Saturday. "Because I couldn't sub anymore, and so I thought, 'Well, I have to do something. I can't assign them any work.'"

In a spare bedroom-turned-studio, Harmdierks put together the kits on a table made from the door of her first classroom, where she taught art in Wessington Springs. Each kit claimed last week consisted of a wood block, a vinyl stencil including the words "Spartan pride and the Wessington Springs School District's logo, paint and a set of instructions.

Harmdierks makes and prints the vinyl stencils with her Cricut, and she cuts and sands the wood blocks from boards purchased at the local lumberyard. The kits include just enough paint of each color to complete the project, which she said could be done by anyone from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Of the approximately 50 kits Harmdierks put on her porch last Wednesday, almost all were gone by that night. She's since been making kits upon request and said she plans to make between 60 and 80 in total, all free of charge.

"The kids come over and gets their things on Mondays at the school, so I'm thinking I'll have more people that will stop by, because a lot of people live in Alpena or on a farm," she said.

Harmdierks' craft kits are just the latest of her creative projects, which she said are both a hobby and a business. She began making small crafts for other teachers while she was an educator, and she's since begun selling some items, including custom wooden signs and projects made using her laser cutter. As part of her business, Wooden It Inspire, she also sells some items.

"I just love to do creative things, as a former art teacher, so I always have to do something," she said. "Hopefully, as long as we're out of school, I can keep doing it (and) try to have something new once a week."

Harmdierks said her plan for the next set of kits is a stencil with the words "chilling with my peeps" above rabbit shapes meant to represent Peeps marshmallows.

Those interested in Harmdierks' work can contact her on her Facebook page, facebook.com/vharmdierks.