Fittingly, a project targeting inclusivity at Sedgwick's R.L. Wright Elementary (specifically its playground) drew a lot of community involvement, as several citizens answered the call when it came time to install some new equipment at the school recently.
As R.L. Wright Elementary principal Julie Scott noted, the time had come to replace some equipment that was causing injury issues among students. Hearing additional concerns from students about the older and younger children having equal access to the playground equipment (due to timing), Scott formulated a two-phased plan. To start, Scott wanted to bring in some equipment geared towards the younger students (ages 2-6) — with the idea that more items for the older students would be added at a later date to make it an inclusive set-up.
Securing funds from the Sedgwick school board (and additional future support from the Parent Teacher Organization) to purchase equipment — which would include a set with a balance beam, climbing rings, slide and more — for phase one, the next step was setting up installation. That is where the playground renovations turned into a community project.
"I've never been a part of a community build, but I've heard other principals talk about (the fact) that if you can do it, it's great. Not only do you save the money of having the company come out and install it, but it brings the community together, it allows us all to work together for a common good," Scott said. "We had over 50 people volunteer throughout the day, some of whom didn't even have kids in our school. They were just community members who wanted to help out."
On the first Saturday of February, the host of volunteers showed up at 7:30 a.m. at R.L. Wright Elementary and worked until 2:30 p.m. constructing and installing the playground set — which Scott pointed out will be open to the entire community.
The PTO, which offered breakfast and lunch to the group of volunteers, was another driver in the project. For one member who helped with the playground installation, Shane Vondracek, it was an easy sell.
"It just meant a lot to my husband and I to be a part of something that helps the community and our children," Vondracek said. "It was awesome to see so many people come together. Everybody just did what was needed, everybody worked together and it was just really amazing to watch all these tiny pieces come up and come together. A lot of people came from the community just because they wanted to help the children and they wanted it to be a benefit of the kids, so it's really an honor to be a part of a community that will come together and work on something that they believe in."
"Just to have fun together as a community was pretty awesome. ... It was unique to see the different age groups working together for that common cause," Scott said. "I just think that it means a lot to people within the community, within a small town, that everybody's pulling together for good reasons. Sometimes in our world that's lost on us because of all the negativity around."
Middle school students and retirees alike worked together constructing the playground equipment, which both Scott and Vondracek noted was quite the sight to see. Some of the latter hadn't had kids in the Sedgwick schools for many years, but were still extremely invested in the project.
For Scott, in her first year at R.L. Wright Elementary, she took that community involvement as a positive sign. She knows it will greatly benefit the students, too, though they have not been able to get much time on the new equipment just yet — given the time it needed to set as well as the winter weather that rolled in this week, cancelling school for two days. Scott did state the kids, however, are excited about the new set-up
Volunteers were excited as well, with Vondracek admitting that part of the reason she got involved with the PTO was to help with family-oriented initiatives like the playground project (as well as the daddy-daughter dance, etc.). Having a background in education, she is also happy to see continued improvements being made in the schools and the strong community ties being built.
"As a former teacher myself, I understand how important it is to have that connection between the parents and the teachers. With all the budget cuts across the state for the schools, there's just a lot of extra things the teachers would like to have to enhance the student learning. The money is not there, and so I just know that it's important to provide those things for the kids and PTO is one way to do it," Vondracek said. "Our main goal is to do what is needed so we can insure the kids are provided the tools that they need."