By STEVEN NALLEY
There are 1,115 students at Sudduth Elementary School, and principal Lisa Thompson says not all of them can use the school’s regular playground.
Sudduth has four self-contained special education classrooms, Thompson said, with a total of 40 students. Not all the students have physical disabilities, she said, but while two of the classes are for children in kindergarten through second grade, the other two are for pre-kindergarten students.
“My three-year-old students can’t play on the regular playground because the equipment does not fit their needs,” Thompson said. “My wheelchair-(using) students are not able to utilize the regular playground, either.”
Soon, Sudduth will have a playground for everyone, and the entire Starkville community has a chance to help make it happen.
Sudduth is hosting Community Build Day for its new Friendship Playground Oct. 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and prospective volunteers have until Sept. 14 to sign up online at http://www.goplaykids.org .
Heather Carson is founder of Starkville’s GoPlay Initiative, which has partnered with Sudduth to create a Friendship Playground where all children can play regardless of age or special needs. Carson said the project began in September 2011 with an idea from Sudduth special education teacher Brooke Kiel, and several teachers, parents and occupational therapists have informed the playground’s development. GoPlay initially set a fundraising goal of $60,000, she said, but a combination of Starkville School District funds, grant contributions and sponsorships has enabled GoPlay to afford a second phase, putting the total project value at $78,000.
“We are fortunate to have a collaborative district administration, enthusiastic teachers, and a supportive PTO that paved the way for our playground team to raise the necessary funds,” Carson said. “PTO leaders and the teacher team successfully completed an artwork tile project with the students at Sudduth last spring. This winter the tiles will be mounted in the main office entry so that everyone can enjoy seeing the children’s art and also playground sponsors. We are calling it our Playground Gratitude Wall.”
The Starkville School district has contributed more than $30,000 for the playground’s pour-in-place rubber surfacing, Carson said, and GoPlay has secured two grants for it: $4,100 from the Starkville Healthiest Hometown Program and a national KaBoom! Community Build grant for $20,000. She said Playscapes of Mississippi has also been a key partner, because if Playscapes had not made the Community Build possible, GoPlay could not have qualified for the KaBoom! grant.
“Critical to receiving the grants was Playscapes of Mississippi’s willingness to provide community build supervision and countless hours of consultation with our team without a fee,” Carson said. “As part of the Playful City USA recognition program, the city of Starkville had the opportunity to apply for exclusive grant funding that stipulated a need for building a playground (using) volunteers. (This community build) will save our district over $8,000 in installation costs.”
Numerous community sponsors have also made the playground possible, Carson said, including Sudduth interventionist Amanda May and the Starkville Junior Auxiliary, each of whom donated $5,000. She said she is also grateful for the in-kind services from volunteers, many of whom have already agreed to help with the community build.
“We are fortunate to be a college town and thankful for Mississippi State University’s talented faculty and students, like the MSU Day One Playground Team, who are giving of their time, and in the case of Phi Delta Theta, a donation of $3,000 and volunteers for Oct. 6,” Carson said. “We will have Playscapes of Mississippi equipment experts on site throughout the build week and all day on Saturday to supervise the volunteers.”
Volunteers must attend a mandatory information meeting Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. in the Sudduth library, Carson said, and a light breakfast, lunch and beverages will be provided throughout the day Oct. 6. The majority of the tasks require lifting, digging, moving wheel barrows of mulch and other hands-on projects, she said.
“While we will have some cleaning and painting projects, we are looking for men and women over the age of 18 who don’t mind getting dirty and working hard for a full day,” Carson said. “The Starkville School District and Playscapes of Mississippi will be completing the initial surfacing preparation, and on Oct. 5, a core team of equipment lead volunteers will be assembling and preparing the site for the Oct. 6 build. We are looking (for) some specific equipment to borrow for the build; the list is on our website. Volunteers will receive a free t-shirt, so please include size when signing up to volunteer.”
The completion date depends on the rubber surfacing to be poured after the build, Carson said, but she expects a ribbon-cutting ceremony in mid- to late October. She said this project is important to her because she believes play and playgrounds are essential for children’s cognitive, physical, emotional and social growth.
“When Brooke Kiel asked me to help her build an inclusive playground at Sudduth last September, I honestly felt we had the resources and people in Starkville to make it happen,” Carson said. “It is my humble opinion that if we truly want what is best for our children, than we must be prepared to give the very best of ourselves. I’m proud to be raising my children in a town that values inclusive play.”