For Peyton Forest Elementary ESOL teacher Beth Bolden (pictured, above left), the six-hour construction of an entirely new playground was the culmination of a three-year dream. For Principal Karen Barlow Brown (pictured, above right), it confirmed the commitment of her staff and the surrounding community to make her school a better place for her students.
More than 350 volunteers — mostly from Home Depot‘s national transportation staff and contractors — joined in with KaBOOM! to built yet another playground for Atlanta Public Schools on Thursday, just a few weeks after KaBOOM! coordinated a playground build at Fickett Elementary. This is a particularly special playground for APS, as it will also feature an interactive nature trail to take advantage of the adjacent forest and creek. (A trail had been cleared during a spring beautification project.) The grounds also will feature two outdoor classroom areas and a butterfly and bird habitat. Students painted birdhouses for the habitat, and participated in other activities including gardening.
Bolden began the grant application for the playground after she won a grant at the 2006 Atlanta Families’ Awards and then accomanied Barlow Brown when SHE won a grant at the 2007 ceremony. It was then that they both learned the group would offer to help interested schools apply for a KaBoom! playground. Bolden turned in an application, but through a series of snafus and bad luck, it didn’t get approved until this past summer — during a conference call that Bolden had to struggle through when the building at which she was teaching summer school suffered a power outage.
“The woman from KaBOOM! said on the other line, ‘Wait, hold on. Your building has lost its power and you’re still trying to talk to me?'” Bolden recalled with a laugh. “She could tell I was serious!”
Bolden has education, and APS, in her blood. She’s a product of APS schools, her mother is a retired APS teacher (including Peyton Forest), and she’s an 18-year APS veteran teacher including six at Peyton Forest. (Her brother is a principal in DeKalb County.) And now she can focus on her students.
“Children learn their communication and problem-solving skills through play,” Bolden noted. “They learn team-building, and it builds their self-esteem. It’s very fulfilling to finally see this happen. I had a playground at my elementary school, and I learned to build friendships and to get along with others.” She had to pause to collect her thoughts before adding, “As a teacher, who doesn’t have any kids of her own, I look at these children as my own, and this school as my own. This is a dream come true.”
Barlow Brown couldn’t be more proud of Bolden, who co-chaired the project with second grade teacher and Outdoor Science Explorer club sponsor Asma Waajid. ” This is all about teacher quality, and this is a teacher-generated project,” Barlow Brown said. “Getting something like this for our school can make all the difference in the world. We’re trying to build the whole child here at Peyton Forest, to nurture them mentally, physically and academically.”
Peyton Forest fifth-grader Antonio Brown was thrilled with the change in scenery: “It’s gonna be a lot more fun. Before, when we had a break, we’d just go outside and play dodgeball or throw the football around. There’s not a lot to do without a playground. Now we get a lot more things we didn’t have before.”
Peyton Forest had an incredible amount of help from KaBOOM! and Home Depot, who have been invaluable community partners. They also got help from the surrounding community, including St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and workers coming from the Atlanta Job Bank.
“We really wanted to focus on an environmentally sustainable playground with this one,” said KaBOOM! project manager Kara Hoffman. “We wanted a natural play space, with the nature trail and the outdoor classrooms. What’s so great about these projects is, you can literally see the transformation in one day, so you can feel the value immediately. And we love the feedback afterwards; people tell us that because there is so much investment from surrounding community, the people will come back to see how it’s going.”
The day started with a parade to cheer on the volunteers, including an appearance by the Douglass High School marching band.