Friday, March 10, 2017

Safety and security improvements to be made to Raymond Elementary School Playground by Lorraine Glowczak

The Windham/Raymond Schools, RSU14, have announced the construction of a new playground space in order to improve safety and security at Raymond Elementary School (RES).  Through a long-term application process with the U.S. Department of Defense, RSU #14 and RES are the recipients of the military’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) to help with the building of the playground space. The Maine National Guard will begin their two-week training, making many of the necessary improvements beginning in June of 2017.

Adding soil to the playground
From the discovery of the needs of additional playground space to the present has been a six-year process. A preliminary design of a small ball field was developed in 2011 and this remained a concept until the fall of 2014 when a dedicated group of administrators, staff and parents began the process of change for the RES playground space.

Alissa Messer has been an instrumental parent involved in the RES playground space project.  Messer was concerned that the RES playground had many deficiencies. “The school’s playground has a significant sloping hill that creates numerous problems, like falls and injuries during recess time”, Messer explained. “In addition, the playground had no fence to secure the area. Located adjacent to a wooded forest, it’s concerning to have children run after balls into to woods out of clear sight, picking up ticks in the wooded area and securing the area from unwanted visitors such as wildlife and hunters.”

As a parent, Messer could have easily requested that a change be made and put all the work on an already over worked school and district staff.  Messer became the change she wanted to see, working alongside school officials to make the needed safety and security modifications.

With the support of the RSU #14 School Board and Superintendent Sanford Prince, Messer reached out to Eric Tarbox, Scout Executive/CEO of the Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which had recently been the recipient of the military’s IRT. “I asked Eric if he thought the playground improvement project would fit within the scope of the IRT.”  Messer explained that she was grateful for Tarbox's advice and recognized he was of great assistance in the process for the RES playground IRT submission.

Per the website of the Department of Defense: “Innovative Readiness Training builds mutually beneficial civil-military partnerships between US communities and the Department of Defense (DOD) to provide high quality, mission-essential training for Active, Guard, and Reserve support personnel and units, deliver military readiness and partnership capacity to serve when the nation calls, at home or abroad and contribute to American prosperity by meeting public and civil-society needs.” (

Although Messer is a change maker, she calls attention to the fact she did not do this alone. In fact, other parents, teachers, administrators and even the students jumped on board to make the change happen.  It was really important to Messer to have this be a team project. From the  third grade student Oscar Horowitz, who designed the logo for the project with his Grandfather Rudy, to the now sixth grade students who helped in applying for a grant, the “Drive for Education Grant” established by Berlin City Auto. “Together, the students created a ‘Where’s Phil’ video skit highlighting the dangers of the playground and the need for ‘fill’ to even out the soil variations on the play field,” Messer said.
Playground before soil added

The video and grant proposal was submitted in the fall of 2015. The grant proposal was accepted and an award of $1,750 was received on December 8, 2015.
Other funding sources include generous donations from a variety of local businesses.
Community fundraisers have included working with local businesses such as the Good Life Market for holiday pies, ongoing Hannaford gift card sales, as well as continuing support from Pickle Ball Games at the RES. 

A true example and as a result of resilience (RES motto for this year) and being the change one wishes to see in the world, the playground will become not only a safer environment, but secure as well,” Messer stated. “The project will benefit our students and community by creating a level playing field for the students to enjoy, reducing exposure to ticks, adding security and provide an enhanced learning situation when kids can use the recess time as an outlet and management for energy throughout the day. This play area is not only for school time use, but often community families can be found utilizing the space after hours and throughout the summer.”

The Maine National Guard will begin the first phase of many towards the improvement of the playground and will make the RES their home for two weeks, sleeping in the gymnasiums and utilizing the Jordan-Small Middle School kitchen.  Look for more information on the military drill in future communications.

"I am so excited the Raymond Elementary School Playground Expansion is progressing for the students, staff and community,” Vice Principal Hutchinson stated. “I wish to publicly thank Alissa Messer for her commitment and dedication to this project. We would not have been able to accomplish this without her!"

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