By Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD – Unhappy with the condition of their school’s playground, 22 students started a task force to monitor the area to identify issues of vandalism and items in disrepair to ensure children of all ages can enjoy the playscape.
Fifth grade students at Memorial Elementary School
formed a Playground Patrol last summer as part of a service learning project. Twice a week, a pair of students take clipboards and a checklist to assess and notate any issues of concern in the condition of the landscaping or playground equipment. If issues are found, the form is then faxed to Park & Recreation Department so a work order can be placed.
“We feel, as the Playground Patrol, very sad and depressed when our playground is vandalized,” student Drew Dearden said. “Little kids see that and think it’s OK [to behave that way]. We want them to know they can stop this and make it better; be one of the leaders.”
Ruth Dickson, patrol facilitator and school librarian said, “Service learning [projects] teach students how to become a citizen in their community.”
Dickson said that students went on a scavenger hunt to determine what improvements the playground needed. The teachers thought the children would notice the trees still missing from the June 1, 2011 tornado, but instead they focused on the broken and vandalized parts of the area. She stated that the students are in complete charge of the patrol.
During the summer 2013 session, the students painted the kick board, designed patrol T-shirts, drafted the checklist, ordered two signs for the playscape and documented the entire process in a journal – all in less than 12 days.
Dickson said the program is funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant that is awarded by the U.S. Department of Education and managed by the Collaborative for Educational Services. The grant is scheduled on a three-year cycle.
Student Lola Casillas explained the importance of keeping the playscape in working condition, free of vandalism. “Many generations of children are going to be playing on this playground.” She created the log the student patrol uses to keep track of the site's needs.
“It’s a big deal – we’re the only school doing this,” student Emily Schnur said. She is responsible for coordinating repairs with Park & Recreation.
Victoria Connor, director of Park & Recreation, said, “We’re hopeful that with their initiative, other schools will develop a communication [system] with us.”
She stated that the department is responsible for 12 to 16 different school playgrounds in the town. “We’re not out there every day as they are,” Connor said.
Connor said that repairs are typically completed within 24 to 48 hours.
Dickson noted that vandalism has decreased. The two new signs were unscrewed from their place, but not stolen or defaced.
Connor said the signs will be returned, using a more secure method to ensure the signs remain posted.
On May 27, the Playground Patrol went before the School Committee to present a video documentary of the work they have accomplished thus far. The goal is to show the video to other schools in the district to inspire fellow students to create similar patrols.
“Working with the Playground Patrol has been amazing. I really hope that other schools can make an impact as well as us,” Casillas said.
“It’s been great and is going smoothly,” Dearden said about her experience with the patrol. She said the project teaches students “courage and confidence” while they make new friends.
Dearden added, “The patrol has taught students how you can be outspoken and help with other things in the world.”