Rahway Elementary School Principals Score a 'Double Play' for Their Students
Story by: Rob Kinch
Photo by: Joseph Mudrak
Is youth truly wasted on the young? It IS when the young are not afforded what they need to enjoy it. Ask most grammar school age children what their favorite class is and one would undoubtedly discover “recess” to be a frequent response. Although their classrooms may pride themselves on a vast array of educational accoutrements designed to stimulate, fascinate, and invigorate developing young minds, what of that sacred area reserved only for their total, unbridled amusement…the playground? For students grades PK-2 at Rahway’s Roosevelt School, their ‘playground’ boasts merely a diminutive, sun-bleached plastic play structure (welcoming no more than five youngsters at a time) on a small 15x15 patch nestled unceremoniously within an endless sea of black-top. “Every morning as I drive down St. Georges Avenue,” laments Roosevelt Vice Principal Tong-ya Clay, “I have to pass our tiny, sad little playground and think to myself, ‘Wow – our kids deserve so much better’.”
Principal, Dr. Cary Fields, shares the same dream and the same heart. “One of my very first goals when I came to Roosevelt, was to do something about our small playground,” she offers. “I felt our little ones were in great need of an updated play area to enhance their recess experience.” As Vice Principal Clay mused, “I see so many other playgrounds at other schools and think, ‘We CAN do so much more…but how when money is always allocated for basic educational necessities?’,” Dr. Fields (also believing, “We can do better.”) made it her mission to seek out ways “to make it happen.” Enter KaBOOM!...and, with it, an explosion of opportunity.
KaBOOM! is the national non-profit dedicated to the goal of ensuring that ALL children, particularly the 16 million American children living in poverty, get the balance of active play needed to become healthy and successful adults. Founded in 1996, KaBOOM! has worked with partners to build, improve, and open over 15,000 playgrounds, engaging more than 1,000,000 volunteers and serving more than 6,600,000 children. Working with corporate and foundation sponsors, KaBOOM! has collaborated with a variety of partners to bring play to communities. Funding partners provide funding and volunteers to assist communities such as Rahway to build new playgrounds where they are needed most. With the assistance of its community partner KaBOOM! kicks-off, plans, and builds a brand new play space in a matter of hours.
Quite fortunately, Roosevelt’s young learners will now not be the only Rahway youngsters to benefit from the marvels of an updated playground area. Principal of Madison Elementary School, Mrs. Arina Robinson, is extremely pleased to announce her school’s partnership with KaBOOM! in the creation of a new recreation space for her students as well! She warmly notes, “It will be a beautiful thing to see the true community involvement of 100 invested individuals from our town come together with 100 partners to magically build a playground in only one day! It’s a testament to how we can work together…totally for our children.”
Superintendent of Rahway Schools, Dr. Patricia Camp, wastes little time in lauding the efforts of both school administrators. “The Rahway School District strives to support all children in acquiring a well-rounded education, and physical education is a valuable part of that education. It is very exciting that two of our current elementary principals, Dr. Fields and Mrs. Robinson, supported by their staff and school communities, are installing new playgrounds at their schools through the KaBOOM! program.” Dr. Camp is also eager to “send a positive shout-out to our new Franklin School principal, Ms. Aleya Shoieb, for bringing and sharing the information about KaBOOM! with her new colleague Dr. Fields.”
Following the initial submission of the KaBOOM! grant application in July 2018 by Dr. Fields, and after completion of two subsequent rounds of interviews in August and September, official notification was received in November 2018 that the much needed grant would become a reality for Roosevelt. Principal Fields could now not only envision but create as well the educationally appropriate play area she had so desperately sought for her students.
Partnership with KaBOOM! and its corporate and funding sponsors now confirmed, a schedule for moving forward with playground plans is now officially underway, with Feb. 13, 2019 being set as ‘Design Day’. This special ‘kick-off’ day consists of a 1 hour playground site walk, a 1 hour children’s meeting, and a 2-3 hour adults’ meeting. These activities afford all involved parties the opportunities to familiarize themselves with the new playground site, to allow playground aged youngsters to depict their ‘dream’ play spaces, and to sign up community volunteers for the planning committees.
April 10 and 11 have been set aside as Prep Days when community volunteers are needed to take care of various jobs such as unloading playground equipment, priming walls for murals, etc. Build Day, which typically runs from an 8am arrival on site to a 3pm ribbon cutting ceremony, follows on April 12. To this end, Dr. Fields is currently in need of 50-75 caring community volunteers to assist on Prep Days and 100 volunteers to offer their hearts and hands on Build Day. Those community members wishing to devote their energies on behalf of the children may contact Dr. Fields at Roosevelt School either by phone, (732) 396-1061, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as is convenient.
Although a significant accomplishment for her children and for her school, Roosevelt’s new recreational area is clearly not the only item on Dr. Fields ambitious ‘to do’ list. “There is so much on the horizon for our school. I saw its potential the minute I walked through those doors. Even though it may be a challenge and may even take some time, I am confident Roosevelt will not only be a great place to learn but also a safe, fun, and visually welcoming environment.” For now, 1st grader Yoseaf would be more than happy with “a big playground with a soft floor and a bouncy bridge and a slide!” Pre-K little learner Olivia has HER sights set on “a house with a tall roof, swings and a swirly slide.” Dreams, it seems, can come in all sizes.