When it comes to playing, even pennies can make a difference.
That’s the idea behind the “Pennies for the Playground” campaign at Roxboro Road Elementary in Mattydale, which encourages students and families to donate change to the effort to build a new playground at the school. The campaign is one of several fundraising efforts to help construct a new play structure.
According to Lisa Courtright, third grade teacher at RRE, member of the RRE Parent-Teacher Group (PTG) and chairperson of the RRE Playground Committee, an upgraded playground is necessary for the safety of the children. The school was built in 1956, and the playground has had several upgrades since then. RRE underwent significant renovations in the early 2000s. When those were completed, the school was an entire wing larger, and the North Syracuse Central School District redistricted, giving RRE more than 200 more students.
“With this increase in our student population, our transient population, and our continually growing class sizes, the current playground is too small to accommodate the approximate 650-plus students we now have in our building,” Courtright said. “At the end of the day when many of our teachers choose to have their recess time, our playground is often overcrowded. Despite the supervision of our teachers around the playground area, the continued safety of our students has become a concern due to the limited space being used for this exercise and recreation area. Teachers often worry about having our younger kindergarten through second grade students with the older third and fourth grade students during this time period, and at times some even take their classes back inside because of the number of students on the playground.”
A separate playground structure, Courtright said, would help teachers and students.
“The construction of another separate playground structure away from the existing one would greatly assist the teachers in providing our students with a safer exercise and recreation area at RRE,” she said. “It would allow our grade levels to be separated more during this non-structured time, and it will allow students to have more appropriate social interactions with peers.”
The new playground would also be in line with New York state’s Common Core standards for physical education. Courtright said the committee hopes to center the new structure around a larger climbing structure with several slides, suitable for kids ages 5 through 12. Other additions will include climbing obstacles, balance beams, parallel bars, pull-up bars and more to encourage exercise and fitness.
In addition, the committee wants the equipment to be handicapped-accessible to accommodate RRE’s special needs students.
“Several special needs products would also like to be included to allow our special friends to have sensory exploration, motion play and inclusive play,” Courtright said. “By providing these opportunities our special class students can continue to develop their skills and agility.”
But that dream playground doesn’t come cheap. Courtright said the costs are almost prohibitive.
“When we first began this project we found that the cost of building a dream playground would be much more than we anticipated,” she said. “Despite our constant fundraising efforts, most of the products we have researched would not be possible for many years to come. So, at this point we would like to raise at least $35,000 to $50,000 to establish a new playground. Then, fundraising efforts will continue to add additional pieces every few years and to update the existing playground.”
Those fundraising efforts are comprised of several different measures. Courtright, PTG member Tammy Ryan and former PTG member and resource teacher Jeanelle Cross organized the following fundraisers:
Pennies for the Playground. The PTG came up with this idea last summer as a way to provide a simple fundraiser that could be carried out throughout the school year.
“The group decided that this easy fundraiser would be a simple one that all students could participate in despite their economic situations,” Courtright said. “By bringing in any loose change during the school year our students can feel included and a part of the playground building process. RRE students and families can add change to our playground fund jugs located in our main office and in our main foyer during the school day and at various school wide events. Additional penny collection jugs may also be placed at some of the local businesses near RRE to ask the community to become involved in this project.
The Run for Roxboro. Held at the end of the school year, the event calls for students to run laps around the school track. They also participate in other fitness activities throughout the day. Families donate to support the run.
“This has been a very successful fundraiser for the past two years, and we are hoping to do even better this year, as it will be dedicated to our RRE PTG executive board member and RRE teacher, Jeanelle Cross, who passed away from a battle with breast cancer in September 2012,” Courtright said. “It was Ms. Cross who first helped to initiate and organize this specific fundraiser, which kicked off the beginning of our playground fund in 2011.”
In addition, once it’s constructed, the playground will be named after Cross.
Crazy hat days. Over the last two years, students and staffers wear a hat to school on specific dates. Donations are welcome, but optional.
The school has also held events like a Yankee Candle sale, a breakfast fundraiser at Applebee’s, cheesecake sales and more. The committee is also looking into grant opportunities.
Courtright said the committee is also looking for the community’s help to raise adequate funds.
“School playgrounds are often used by community members after school hours, so we would love to have the community assist us with this project,” Courtright said. “If anyone would like to help contribute to our playground and assist our RRE students, donations are greatly accepted and appreciated.”
Checks can be made payable to the Roxboro Road Elementary Parent Teacher Group (RRE PTG) and mailed directly to RRE’s Playground Committee at Roxboro Road Elementary, 200 Bernard St., Syracuse, NY 13211.
Courtright said the committee is also asking for help in purchasing specific pieces of equipment.
“For example, a company could sponsor the installation of a bench, a climbing structure, a special needs swing, etc.,” she said. “All businesses who contribute larger amounts towards equipment will be recognized on our welcome sign to be placed near the playground.”
In order to emphasize the community nature of the project, neighbors will be asked to help build the structure.
“A ‘community build’ will be done in order to encourage respect of the new equipment, hopefully assist in building good character traits, and to encourage positive social interactions while helping our school community,” Courtright said.
The project is important not only for what it will do for RRE’s students — “Hopefully this will allow all of future RRE students the opportunity to have a variety of quality physical education and recreation equipment to use in both playground areas,” Courtright said — but also because it memorializes an important part of the RRE community.
“Ms. Jeanelle Cross is dearly missed by our RRE staff and students,” Courtright said. “Ms. Cross was an enthusiastic teacher who truly wanted to support our students in every way possible. Her hope before her passing was to see our new playground dream become a reality.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.