March 17, 2011

 Just a week ago, when recess bells rang at Sharon Hills Elementary School in Baton Rouge, students had no playground equipment for recreational play. But on Saturday, March 12, more than 100 hundred volunteers gathered eagerly at 8 a.m. to build a playground for Sharon Hills students and the community. 

Volunteers met team captains, divided into groups, were assigned tasks for the day and went straight to work. Playground builders included volunteers from: Sharon Hills Elementary School, Engineers Without Borders, Biological Engineering Student Organization (BESO), the National Society of Black Engineers, Tau Beta Phi, Volunteer LSU, the community and a host of other organizations.

Czarina Patolilic and Nicole Walker, both juniors in biological engineering, were assigned to mixing concrete for the playground posts and spreading mulch around the newly built playground.  

“There were many jobs that had to be done,” said Patolilic. “There were a lot of LSU students, some from area high schools and volunteers from the neighborhood. Teachers, students, and even the librarian from Sharon Hills were there to see the playground being built.”

For Jacob Koch, a junior in mechanical engineering, the playground project was an opportunity for him to put his hobby to work. “I love building things, using my hands and being outside,” said Koch. “It feels great to give back to the community, especially the kids who deserve it.”

Sharon Hills Elementary wrote a successful grant to KaBOOM! to fund the vast majority of the new, large playground. Sharon Hills, Aramark and the LSU Community Playground Project also contributed matching funds. Walker and Brooke Morris, also a biological engineering student, wrote a succesful grant to the Charles Lamar Foundation to help fund the match.

The build marked the 21st playground constructed in affiliation with the LSU Community Playground Project, which provides children in Baton Rouge and surrounding communities with safe, fun, assessable playgrounds that the children themselves help to design.

LSU biological engineering students, enrolled in a Service Learning design class, worked with the children, teachers and administrators of Sharon Hills Elementary to develop playground design concepts in the playground design class in spring of 2009.

“As one of Dr. Lima’s students, I worked to create the designs for the playgrounds,” said Walker. “I find the role I play very cool and rewarding for having been a part of something from writing the grants to seeing it come alive and happen.”

“Playgrounds are giving kids the resources and access they need to be safe and have fun,” said Tony Daigle, a graduate student in biological engineering and graduate assistant to Dr. Marybeth Lima, director, Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership (CCELL) and professor, biological and agricultural engineering. “People from all different backgrounds came together today to make a difference.”

In addition to building the playground, volunteers painted a life-size map of the United States on the basketball court, built picnic tables and benches and created a peace garden.

“This is not just a school playground. It is a community playground,” said Dawn Hayward, Principal at Sharon Hills and LSU graduate. “The gates will be open 24-7 for the community to use on the weekends. We just ask the community to help keep our equipment safe. The adults can play too.”

"I am continually amazed at the extraordinary accomplishments that community groups achieve when members work together to do ordinary things," said Lima. "My hat is off to Principal Dawn Hayward and the hard work of the more than 100 volunteers who toiled to make the new Sharon Hills playground a reality."

Sharon Hills elementary will have an official ribbon cutting later in March. Each grade-level will participate in cutting the ribbon to celebrate the new equipment, which was built in a day.

To view a highlight video from the event, click here.

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