Hayden At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Shelby Archuleta sprinted barefoot across the blacktop at Hayden Valley Elementary School to a dome of bars on the playground.
“First one to the top wins,” the fifth-grader roared as she easily climbed to the top of the structure, anchored her legs at the top and hung upside down.
Her classmates weren’t far behind. Some joined Shelby on the dome while others took to the swings and the basketball courts. Screams, laughs and cries filled the air during the windy 20-minute recess.
A few minutes later, the fifth-graders congregated on the warm blacktop.
They said the playground was a place to relax and recharge after daily lessons indoors. It was a place to express themselves, to read a book in solace on a grass lawn or chat with friends. On the playground, the children said, their words are not judged by adults.
“It’s where we feel comfortable about ourselves,” Faith Day said.
It’s also a place where the students hope their younger classmates can have more things to play on next year.
Recognizing the importance of the merry-go-round, swings and slides that sprawl across blacktop and pea gravel at the elementary school, Faith and her fifth-grade classmates said they hope a $195,000 grant the elementary school secured from the Colorado Health Foundation will spruce up the aging play structures and add more recreational options.
Although the fifth-graders won’t be at the school next year, they said they hope their peers will reap the benefits of the updated playground.
“It’s going to be cool because they haven’t upgraded our playground for a long time,” student Wynter Lighthizer said. “Sometimes, we get sick of having the same old things on the playground every day.”
A safer place to play
While Hayden elementary school students are eager to see new tetherball courts, swing sets and grassy recreation areas, principal Rhonda Sweetser is eager to improve the safety of the play structures.
A bouncier play surface and soft sidings to contain pea gravel are items that could make the playground more forgiving to falls and slips, the principal said.
“Safetywise, there are lots of concerns to look at because the playground is getting older,” Sweetser said, noting that some parts of the playscape appear to be as old as the school building itself. “But we really are pretty lucky we don’t have a lot of injuries. We see skinned knees but not a huge amount of injuries. We’re really trying to be proactive and make sure the structures are safe.”
A study done in August by the University of Colorado’s Learning Landscapes produced a playground improvement plan that would cost $491,641 to implement. Because Hayden couldn’t afford the upgrades, the plan remained just that for months.
“I had no idea how costly playscapes are,” Sweetser said.
Hayden spent $73,000 to extend its blacktop this school year, she added.
But with a plan mapped out, the school district didn’t give up.
With the help of LiveWell Northwest Colorado, it searched and applied for state grant funding. Administrators were pleasantly surprised in February when the Colorado Health Foundation pledged to give the school $195,195 to improve its playground.
The foundation gave $566,000 in grants to health-related projects in Routt County in 2010 and $97 million statewide, according to its website.
“We were shocked and very pleased when they came up and awarded us the full amount we asked for,” Sweetser said. “It’s very exciting. It’s been a long process, but it’s great to see that it’s going to happen now that we have the funding.”
Now, she and the district get to build a better playground, and there’s a little bit of a science to it.
Sweetser said to determine which types of play structures are popular, she’s driven by other playgrounds in Northwest Colorado to see which structures kids flock to.
“You hope that whatever you put in, the kids are going to like it,” she said.
A nice break
Sweetser and LiveWell Northwest Colorado Coordinator Barb Parnell said upgrades to the playground will offer students more opportunities to be active and exercise and ultimately will improve academic achievement.
“Research shows kids will learn more when they have that time of physical activity on the playground before or after a class,” Sweetser said. ‘The playground is their free time. We want it to be fun and entertaining.”
Sweetser said work on the playground should begin in June after classes let out for summer break.
Back on the blacktop Tuesday, Shelby and her classmates also stressed how important recess is.
“It calms us down during the day,” Shelby said. “It’s a nice break from class.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com