Mia Croyle has been a member of the Fox Prairie Working For Kids group for the last few years, as her kids, now in third and fourth grade, work their way through the elementary school.

The group’s years of hard work manifested last week as new playground equipment was installed at one of the two playgrounds at the elementary school.

The Working For Kids group raised more than $27,500 for the new playground over two years through various fundraising activities, primarily the “Fox Trot” race students and staff participate in each year. Those funds contributed to the new playground equipment that the school district originally couldn’t support financially. That changed, however, when the district set money aside to help finance the remaining funds for the project after the group raised a significant chunk, Croyle said.

The new equipment was identified as a need during the 2016-17 school year, when some of the climbing equipment fell apart and had to be taken down. That’s when conversations started with the school district about what could be done to help fix the problem.

“The old playground was so old that when things broke, that structure had to be removed entirely because we could not get replacement parts,” Croyle explained.

The new equipment is fully accessible for students with different abilities, which was a goal of the group from the very beginning.

“There’s a communication board for some of our kids who are nonverbal,” Croyle said. “They can point to one of the things on the board and it can support the way (staff) are trying to encourage communication.”

In addition to the tools and toys for students with special needs, the playground also offers the usual staples like slides and climbing equipment.

“One of the things the kids are super happy about is the swings, that’s a huge thing for them,” Croyle said.

The Working For Kids group operates like a PTO, and each elementary school in SASD has one. They operate independently from the school district, with its own funding and budget process.

In its first year, the Fox Trot raised more than $11,000 for the playground fund. That money was put into a certificate of deposit (CD) account, so it would accrue interest over time as the remaining funds were earned.

“It was important to us that we were good stewards of our money,” Croyle said.

Crews installed the equipment last week, and three ribbon cutting ceremonies will be held this Friday for students at the school to formally introduce the new playground and give them all a chance to play on it. Fox Prairie principal Krista Huntley Rogers said the students have been “very excited” to watch the process and even got a chance to weigh in on the design. The color scheme, purple and blue, was voted on by the students and they also got to weigh in on what equipment they wanted.

Working, for the kids

Working For Kids does more than build playgrounds.

While the equipment might be more noticeable to students, the group of parents and community members holds dozens of fundraisers throughout the year, from movie nights to concession sales, as a way to help support kids both in and out of the classroom.

That support manifests in making sure the health room has clean underwear to give to students who have an accident or come to school with dirty clothes, to giving a stipend to teachers to help stock their classrooms. They also help financially support the safety patrol, which includes the crossing guards before and after school.

Croyle said the need for outside funding is part of the reality of budget cuts within the district, not only for those different projects, but also as it relates to the playground they helped support.

“We know play-based learning works in elementary schools and yet our district funding isn’t always able to fully support us,” she said. “The district did step up and fund a major chunk of this playground that they wouldn’t have been able to do without our support but because they know of our funding and we got to a considerable amount, they were able to step up.”

Contact Amber Levenhagen at amber.levenhagen@wcinet.com.