The need for playground equipment had been evident for some time at Arlington Elementary. The existing equipment was 10 years old and inappropriate for the developmental and physical needs of the students. In addition to being unattractive, the equipment was also no longer safe. The injuries sustained by several students caused teachers to limit the number and age of students allowed to use the equipment. When the children went outside for recess, they had to play organize games or not at all. This inactivity contributed to increased restlessness in afternoon classes and a noticeable lack of physical agility and strength in students when tested in fitness areas.
Connie Whitaker took the initiative and made a change. She played a pivotal role in all aspects of the playground project. She was the creator and sole networker for the fundraising and purchasing portions of the program. She led and organized the Playground Committee. She networked so that others in the community would be aware of the need at Arlington and sought grants and supplemental funding from various venues. She challenged classrooms of students to become involved in planning and implementation of their own fundraising projects. The projects evolved into service learning projects used by the teachers to teach economics, volunteer service, and citizenship responsibilities.
Whitaker spearheaded the effort to gain the participation of outside businesses and the private sector for donations. She contacted local politicians, the Neighborhood Associations, as well as the media. She got the local newspaper involved and the project was featured in a story to increase public awareness of the need. As a result of this, several large donations were contributed. Her approach was innovative in that she involved the students in the project. This had not been accomplished before, but it aided in the drive and increased the students’ feeling of ownership. This also made the project a total community effort.
Within one year of initiation, Whitaker had raised the $40,000 needed to purchase new playground equipment for Arlington students. The new equipment was safe, fun to play on, developmentally and age appropriate, and also attractive. This increased community pride and knowing that the community pulled together and accomplished a seemingly impossible task.
Whitaker has done much more than just work on the Playground Project. She has worked tirelessly for the past seven years to enhance the educational experience of all students. She facilitates classroom and volunteer activities, provides supportive materials, and lovingly gives of her time. Though her job description is Cafeteria Manager, her true duties include building and donating kindergarten furniture, planning and implementing a Santa’s workshop that benefited low income students, and working in conjunction with the Family Resource Center to host and coordinate parent, student, and teacher functions that strengthened communications and public relations between school and home.
Connie Whitaker’s selflessness and commitment has provided a shining example of teamwork. The experience with the Playground Project has promoted cooperation that extends far beyond the scope of the playground.