Belhaven needs online voting help to win playground makeover

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Students Sophia Raa, 11, Claudia Mairone, 12, Georgia Ridgway, 11, and Billy Baxter, 11, help industrial technology teacher Pete Davis of Marmora and Jamie Schaffer of Hammonton design the ultimate outdoor space at Belhaven Middle School. Photo by Suzanne Marino Students Sophia Raa, 11, Claudia Mairone, 12, Georgia Ridgway, 11, and Billy Baxter, 11, help industrial technology teacher Pete Davis of Marmora and Jamie Schaffer of Hammonton design the ultimate outdoor space at Belhaven Middle School. Photo by Suzanne Marino  

LINWOOD – Belhaven Middle School, which was designated a “school to watch” in 2011 by the New Jersey Department of Education, might have everything going for it save one thing: a playground.

Optimism is running high that, with some help from the community and a possible grant from Clorox, Belhaven students will be able to say their school is a great place to be both indoors and out. But they have less than a month to accomplish that goal.

Tucked behind the school is more than 36,000 square feet of ground; however, until several summers ago it was just a patch of dirt. A basketball court was put in by LASAR, and while instructional technology teacher Pete Davis says it is nice, unfortunately because of the topography, sand and dirt blow across the court, making it like glass to play on.

For the past two years Davis has tried to incorporate what is important to the students into his curriculum. Using the Google Architecture program, he challenged the fifth-graders to design their ultimate dream outdoor recreation area. The idea was inspired by the students’ desire to change the dreary condition of their outdoor space.

“The kids designed an area not just for relaxation and play, but also incorporating outdoor academic space so a class may be able to make use of the space for instructional purposes as well,” said Davis.  

He asked students to list what they would like to see in their ultimate outdoor space and shared the list, and while Frisbee golf, lacrosse nets and goal posts have received votes, the most requested features are grass, trash and recycling cans, benches, tables and a retaining wall.

“Our kids are not trying to come up with something elaborate; they are looking to make their space environmentally friendly and usable for everyone,” Davis said.

With the school budget tight, the design concept they created on the computer remained just a plan until Davis – who admitted he is constantly searching for grants to sustain and enhance the instructional technology program – found the Clorox Power a Bright Future grant program.

“It is an ongoing program that allows children to play, create and explore,” the teacher said.

“We had to complete a competitive national nomination period, and we did that,” said language arts teacher Jamie Schaffer. “Now it’s time for our community to lend us a hand, show their support and help us win the $50,000 grant.”

Now all the students at the school have a new homework assignment: Vote every single day to help Belhaven win a playground makeover. To vote, text 2360pbf to 95248, or register and vote atwww.powerabrightfuture.com.

The deadline for voting is Dec. 19.  

The design concept incorporates a retaining wall and areas for relaxation, play and learning. The design concept incorporates a retaining wall and areas for relaxation, play and learning.

Several students talked about what they would like to see at the school Friday morning. Georgia Ridgway, 11, said the area needs a small retaining wall to keep the sand from blowing across the court. Classmate, Sophia Raa, also 11, said she would like to see some benches near the wall and a mural that represented the school painted on the wall.

“The benches could be a place to relax or read a book, but it could also be where a teacher brings her class outdoors to work,” said Raa.

Sixth-grader Billy Baxter said he designed his ultimate outdoor space by keeping in mind what he likes to do outside and what his friends enjoy. The sixth-graders said they would love to see part of their design incorporated into the outdoor space if Belhaven is fortunate enough to land enough votes by the deadline.

According to the contest site, seven grants will be awarded, and the recipients will be announced early next year.


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