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Richardton-Taylor STEM class helps design playground; PAWS helps fund it

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Richardton students play in the school's new GaGa ball pit. (Provided photo)

Since Richardton-Taylor's fourth through sixth grade students moved to the new building last year, they've been without a playground. Parents Active with School, or PAWS, is trying to change that.

PAWS covers the fundraising for the elementary school students in Richardton-Taylor, including those who have moved into the newer building. They've already purchased some equipment for the new school, which holds students grades four through 12.

"Last summer, we had earned enough money through donations and our clubs choice fundraiser and other things that we've done to build a basketball court that has hoops. You can play volleyball or tennis on it also. That was like a $34,000 project," said PAWS president Janine Olson.

STEM II teacher Rhonda Kuntz heard from the staff that they were having trouble coming up with plans for the playground, which they needed to write grants for the equipment, so she offered to create a class project for her juniors and senior students in which they would create designs.

"They had to research all the different aspects of playgrounds and they're learning from it and the function and the age ranges," Kuntz said. "We visited some local parks. A few of them had gone on volleyball games and football games, and they saw some of the equipment there, and they made note of that. ... They had to discuss layouts — user-friendly for supervision ... using the space wisely."

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The students also researched different base materials (e.g. wood chips) and ways of making the playground handicap accessible.

Senior Reine Voigt is in Kuntz' STEM class and created one of the playground designs.

"We're usually focused on projects that are going to be used with people with special needs and also people who don't have those so that way they can play together without harming each other. We had this swing set for people who were in wheelchairs ... and we have that placed next to the regular swing set that we had, so that way they can still be placed together," she said.

Voigt and her classmates surveyed the fourth, fifth and sixth grade students about playground equipment they would like to have, one of which has already been installed — a GaGa ball pit , in which kids have to push a small rubber ball with their hands, trying to hit another kid's feet.

Kuntz said the students have been enjoying it.

"They freaked out about this. With the funding that we got right now, they went and bought the GaGa pit already, and the kids have been playing in it nonstop," she said. There's like six people shooting on the basketball court. Everybody else is in the GaGa bit. It's hilarious."

The students presented their designs to PAWS, which took the most common ideas from the students' designs to create one design that includes one large structure with monkey bars and slides, a swing set with a tire swing and mommy and me swing, tables and benches, a zip line, a Rev 8 climber-spinner.

Jennifer Jung is the fourth-sixth grade principal and serves as the liaison between the school and PAWS.

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"Our goal is to make it into a community playground for the sake of having a nice, huge structure where anybody could play," she said. "Part of the components we wanted were tabled and benches where parents could sit and watch their kids in the middle of summer. We also are doing a mommy and me swing, even though our fourth-sixth kids won't necessarily use that. We wanted components in a playground that anybody of all ages could access at any time."

Although the basketball court and the GaGa ball pit have been installed, the school still has a ways to go to achieve its full vision for the playground. To get all of the equipment they want, they estimate needing between $220,000 and $242,000.

Jung is working with PAWS to write grants, send out letters to businesses asking for donations and create fundraisers.

"If we need to do it in phases, we'll do that. If we have enough just to get one structure at one time, we'll start with that and just add pieces as we are able to raise additional funds," Jung said.

Ideally, they would like to have the equipment purchased by the end of the school year to have it installed by the beginning of next school year.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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