PLAYGROUND UPGRADESSchools receive grants, donations to improve equipment

Published 11:08 am Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Students at two schools in the Vicksburg Warren School District have new fitness and playground equipment, thanks to grants and donations from state and local sources.

Beechwood Elementary School boasts a new “Project Fit” fitness course, thanks to a $25,600 grant from Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Mississippi, and the PTO at Warren Central Intermediate School was awarded a $5,000 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant that paid for playground upgrades and improvements.

The Project Fit stations have been installed near the playground behind the school — though for about 10 more days, the system is exercising only the willpower and discipline of Beechwood’s students, who are not allowed to use the equipment until Blue Cross-Blue Shield and Project Fit officials hold the official unveiling and staff training, sometime later this week.

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“Our kids are dying to get on it,” said principal John Johnson with a laugh.

Beechwood applied for the Project Fit grant during the 2010-11 school year under then-principal Chris Perritt, who worked with physical education teacher Janet McMaster.

The school did not get the grant that year, but its application made an impression on those holding the purse strings.

“They remembered us talking about how we serve all students here, and that ‘Beechwood is the place to bee,’” Johnson said, referencing the school’s mascot and motto. “They asked me to write a new response to what we would do with the equipment.”

This time, the money was approved.

Bowmar Elementary received a Project Fit grant and installed the equipment in 2009.

“It is an excellent program,” said Bowmar P.E. teacher Susan Mims, who uses the Project Fit curriculum with all of her classes, kindergarten through sixth grade. With parental consent, the older kids — fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders — are measured for BMI (body mass index) at the beginning of the school year and again at the end.

“The numbers are always much better at the end of the year,” said Mims. “The curriculum is great. Project Fit focuses on health, fitness and nutrition is tied in, too.”

Opened in 1999, WCI was in great need of a playground boost, said Renee Styles, a parent and PTO member who served as treasurer last year.

The school had 12 swings, two of them broken, tether ball poles without balls, a few basketball hoops and a couple of soccer nets, she said.

“When I found out about the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant, I went ahead and applied for it,” said Styles, who had one child at WCI last year and another who will be moving up from Sherman Avenue Elementary. “The goal was improving our playground for the benefit of all the kids of this school.”

Styles applied in February and received word in May that the PTO would get the money, which paid for one new piece of climbing equipment, a new border for the area and pea gravel to improve the safety of the play surface. It also enabled them to repair and replace the seats on swing sets, basketball nets and tether balls.

In addition, McCoy’s Building Supply pitched in $200 to purchase mats for use under the swings; Anderson-Tully Co. donated six truckloads of mulch worth an unspecified, but “good amount of money”; and the members of Boy Scout Troop 102 brought their sweat and muscles on workdays.

“We couldn’t have done it without that help from the Boy Scouts,” Styles said. “They were here several Saturdays, plus one of their parents, Doug Wilson, brought a tractor to spread all that mulch. It was a great cooperative effort.”

Styles was also grateful for the enthusiasm and support of WCI Principal Tonya Magee. “She was out there helping us, hanging tether balls, bringing ladders in and out of the school, right there with us.”