By Hugh Gallagher
Observer – Detroit, MI
Keep children busy doing interesting things and you’ll keep them out of trouble.
That truism is the idea behind Peaceful Playgrounds, a program out of California that changes schoolyard blacktops into colorful games s and new playground equipment.
Next fall, all four South Redford elementary schools — Jane Addams, Fisher, Jefferson and Vandenberg — will be transformed in bright red, blue, yellow and green colors and dozens of activities.
The new playgrounds began with a generous donation from Eleanor Sheposh, a longtime Thurston High School science teacher who retired earlier this year. Superintendent Linda Hicks told the elementary principals to “dream big” and come up with something special.
“We said what could we get that would be good for all four schools and it was Mr. (Brian) Galdes at Fisher who came across the Peaceful Playgrounds, so we started pulling it together,” said Syndee Malek, principal at Vandenberg.
The donation from Sheposh and a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, for paint and brushes, got the project rolling.
Peaceful Playgrounds provides schools with a kit for making blacktop school yards into productive play areas during recess.
The kit contains stencils for game layouts; rules for dozens of games as traditional as four square and hopscotch and as new as world geography; playground equipment including all the balls, hoops, beanbags and other elements to play the games; and even a conflict resolution guide.
“The concept is for peaceful playgrounds,” said Malek. “If the kids are busy, they have things to do, they understand the games, they’re playing by the rules, you’re going to have less behavior problems on the playground. In three weeks with just the pieces we have painted, we’ve seen a lot of that decline.”
The Vandenberg school yard is a now a lively place with children shooting baskets, bouncing balls in four and two square contests, playing shuffleboard, swinging Hula Hoops on their hips and tossing beanbags.
The kit comes with separate games for grades K-3 and 3-6.
Parents and school staff have been working on painting the game layouts in bright, primary colors.
“This summer, we will add a map of the United States to it, a geography game and also a flat line of the world, which is another game,” Malek said. “There are old-fashioned games that we grew up with and new games that we’re using the sides of the buildings to play.”
In the early fall, teachers will be learning the rules to all the games. They’ll participate in an in-service and play each of the games so that they can properly officiate the rules. The conflict resolution part of the package includes signs that remind everyone what a Peaceful Playground should be.
The program has been well received. Jennie Root, a fifth-grade monitor and aunt of a fifth-grade Vandenberg student, and Philip and Tracy Teague, parents of a fourth-grade student, were among a dozen parents and staff who helped with the painting.
“I think it’s great,” said Root. “Being a monitor with the fifth grade has been a challenge and having this stuff out there, they are so much more calm, more focused and not running around berserk on the days we have to keep them on the blacktop because the lawn is too wet.”
Philip and Tracy Teague like what they see.
“I really like it,” said Tracy Teague, who is also a second-grade monitor. “It’s vibrant, it makes the playground look friendly and kids enjoy it… They look forward to getting the balls and enjoying themselves every day.”
“Very bright, colorful, something to do,” said Philip Teague.
Students are also responding. Malek said playground incidents are way down.
“It’s fun to play with it,” said Alexus Jackson, 10, a fourth-grader. “You get to do more things at recess rather than just running around, we can play different games.”
“I think it’s very cool,” said Davion Johnson, 9, also a fourth-grader, who has been working on his basketball skills.
Vandenberg is planning an official dedication for the Peaceful Playground and its new running track in the fall. Eleanor Sheposh is expected to attend.