COLORADO HEALTH FOUNDATION AWARDS $250,000 FOR OUTDOOR CLASSROOM

When fifth-grader Kaylee Echard found out that her school playground will have an outdoor classroom, her mouth dropped open and her eyes sparkled.

“That would be awesome,” the 10-year-old said. “It would be like a field trip every day.”

That “field trip” is just one aspect of the new and improved play area envisioned by students and staff at B.F. Kitchen Elementary School, which has a health and wellness focus.

The play area will become reality, in part, through a $250,000 Colorado Health Foundation Active Play Areas grant awarded to the school two weeks ago. It will feature a track, an outdoor classroom, a community garden, and soccer and baseball fields.

The playground equipment, most of it original to when the school was built in 1969, will be replaced with new equipment, but the specifics have not yet been identified.

“This is our big vision, but we can’t do it all at once,” said Kandi Smith, school principal.

The vision started in May 2011, when the school received a $6,300 planning grant from the Colorado Health Foundation in Denver to map out what students and staff want for their recess and break time.

B.F. Kitchen partnered with Learning Landscapes, a program in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado Denver, to turn that map into a master plan.

Over summer and fall 2011, Learning Landscapes developed three different scenarios using input from the students, parents and staff. The students drew pictures and made lists of what they wanted to see in the play area.

“The cool thing about it is we involved the kids. They were able to draw their dream playground,” said Kathy Schlepp, wellness coordinator for Thompson School District.

The play area, which sits on 7.4 acres, currently has three soccer fields, a basketball court, asphalt games area and playground equipment. The improvements to that area will take several years, requiring the highest priority projects to be identified first, Smith said.

“I believe it’s just an extension of our learning,” said Kristin Quere, physical education teacher and the health and wellness coordinator at the school. “We make movement a priority at our school. It’s important for us to have room to move.”

The community garden, planned at 3,800 square feet, will be tied to the school’s plant unit in science, and will also draw interest from the community during the summer months and the growing season, Smith said.

The outdoor classroom will extend learning outdoors, allowing students to tie their learning to nature, she said.

And the track will be available to both students and the community, she added.

“It’s going to be so fun,” said fifth-grader Jared Abeyta. “We can play more stuff. We can run. We can play more games.”

A large portion of the grant, which has to be spent by August 2013, will be used to address drainage issues in the play area.

The district will need to hire an architect to firm up the designs for the play area and to provide estimated costs for drainage improvements and the other aspects of the project. The school is working with the district’s facilities department and the materials and procurement department to issue the requests for proposals.

“We wanted this to be a draw for our community and a sense of pride,” Smith said.

For more on grants and grant writing, visit Grant Pros.

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