EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The dogs — and people — who visit the dog park on Swift Avenue will have more to enjoy, thanks to a group of third-graders and a $500 grant from the Egg Harbor Township Education Foundation.
Students in the third-grade gifted-and-talented classes of teachers Lisa Sooy and Nicole Dempsey worked for months designing and building dog agility training equipment for the park, as well as doing research and creating educational signs. They delivered the equipment to the park Jan. 22.
Each year the education foundation, a group of parents, community members and educators who support the local schools, offers a series of mini-grants to fund particular projects.
Dempsey, who teaches at Slaybaugh Elementary School, and Sooy at Swift Elementary School collaborated on the grant application.
The teachers wanted a project that would inspire their students and cover a lot of areas of learning. Kids in both schools pass the park each morning, and last year while it was under construction, they seemed interested, Dempsey said.
The dog park opened in October, on township land, after years of work and organizing. It’s run by a not-for-profit organization, and dog owners pay a yearly membership fee to use it. Work on the third-graders' project started not long after the park opened.
Between the two schools, 34 students participated in the project. First they visited the park for inspiration and to get an idea of the size and determine the best place for the equipment, working with Donna Burns of the Friends of the Egg Harbor Township Dog Park, which oversees its operation.
They designed the equipment and built it from PVC pipe, wood and other materials purchased with the grant money. They made two ring jumps, a teeter-totter, two sets of poles for the dogs to weave through, and a bar jump, Dempsey said.
To share some of the research they had done, they designed signs to direct smartphone users to web pages they built containing information about dogs, along with slideshows, interactive puzzles and more.
The signs feature 16 QR codes that link to the presentations the students created, Dempsey said.
A big part of the project was combining a lot of kinds of learning in something that would inspire the students, Dempsey said.
The children honed their research skills learning about dogs and the benefits of agility training, and they had to learn the computer programs needed to present that information to the public, including one for spreadsheets, she said.
The students designed and built the equipment, which included cutting PVC pipe with a special tool. Physics came into play when they designed a fulcrum for the teeter-totter.
Art was incorporated when they painted some of the equipment and designed the signs, which were created and installed by Signarama.
The project took a lot of concentration by the students, Dempsey said, but it also held their attention and inspired them, in part because they could see how the work would be applied, and also because many of them love dogs.
Slaybaugh students created three pieces of equipment, and Swift students created three others.
“I feel like it's been a living, breathing part of us for so long,” Dempsey said. “From October until December, we’ve been working on it in some shape or form.”
The Egg Harbor Township Dog Park is across Swift Avenue from the township branch of the Atlantic County Library and has separate areas for large and small dogs.
Membership is $40 a year for Atlantic County residents. Information and forms are available at ehtdogpark.com.