FACTORYVILLE — Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center students had an opportunity to share their ideas for playground renovations through an after-school program using K’NEX pieces.
Approximately 30 fifth- and sixth-graders constructed a model playground during four 45-minute sessions of the school’s Introduction to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program. They also designed their own virtual reality playground in the technology lab.
According to Director of Curriculum Tania Ross, Lackawanna Trail has been participating in K’NEX competitions on the local and state level for three years, beginning with fourth and fifth grades and expanding to the high school.
“The K’NEX competition has gained a lot of momentum in the district,” Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center Principal Brian Kelly said. “The students have shown a lot of interest in STEM-type projects. After the K’NEX program finished this year, sixth grade teachers Gail Franko and Chris Gercken started the program.”
The playground renovations will be funded entirely through donations. The students have already made an impact, raising $1,375 through a PJ Pants Day once a month, during which students can wear pajama pants to school for a $1 fee.
“The kids have been involved in the fundraising,” Franko said. “They really got into it and loved the idea of having input into what materials would be purchased for the playground. They came up with some really nice ideas. One boy made a tabletop game for kids who aren’t as active. Our idea on the playground is to make sure students who are challenged in some way also have equipment.
“The students weren’t necessarily thinking of just themselves, it was about what would benefit everyone.”
Sixth-grader Owen Austin enjoyed using his imagination while working on the assignment.
“I tried to think of unique things and find ways to build them,” he said.
Austin created a bench, balance beam, monkey bars and a swing set.
According to Kelly, the last major update to the playground was done in 2001. He estimates the total cost at $25,000 and the school received a $10,000 grant through the Williams Atlantic Sunrise Community Grant Program for the project.
“We’re replacing some parts that have worn over the years and adding a new section, similar to an obstacle course,” Kelly said. “Our hope is to just do the additions this summer and be ready for the start of the 2016-17 school year.
“We’re at about 65 percent of our (fundraising) goal and we haven’t started our online, social media drive. Hopefully, that will be our final piece. It’s going to be a community build, which is a great. We have several parents who are general contractors and are willing to help us this summer.”
Kelly envisions the school incorporating similar projects in the future.
“There is so much interest from students, staff and parents that I feel we’re going to slowly integrate STEM into our curriculum and potentially even offer a special STEM course,” he said. “We’re looking a lot of different options to bridge the gap.”
Kelly also believes the students’ input on the playground design is another example of the school’s Positive Behavior Support System.
“At this point, they know they have a voice and they know it’s being heard and followed through by teachers and administrators,” he said.