Fairfax school community collaborates on playground projects

Students enjoying the main adaptive play piece. Photos by Dallas Schubert.

Three heartfelt and child-centered innovations to the outdoor area of Fairfax Elementary School, two years in the making, were completed this spring.

Early in 2013, members of the Fairfax PTA entered a national video contest sponsored by Big Lots. Their video, which highlighted the need to accommodate students with physical disabilities during recess, won the $20,000 grand prize. 

That money, with additional funds raised by the PTA, paid for three pieces of adaptive-play equipment that were installed in the spring of 2014.

More recently, the school community was brought together by the addition of some finishing touches. A Buddy Bench was installed as part of the Fifth Grade Legacy Project. Antwuan McKeller, recently promoted fifth-grader, created the sign on it. He also received the school’s Awesome Artist award. The bench was the culmination of an idea that was proposed more than 18 months ago.

In December 2013, when they were fourth-graders, students engaged in a project in their language arts classes that involved studying the contestants for the "CNN Heroes." After evaluating the impact of these global heroes, students worked in groups to identify problems in their own community that they could remedy.

One of the most popular proposals was to install a Buddy Bench on the school playground, as a place of refuge for any student needing a friend.  

When classes resume in the fall, school counselor Melinda Stoicoui will work with all grades on how to appropriately engage students who sit on the Buddy Bench.

The most moving piece installed this spring was a Little Free Library, in memory of two Fairfax students who died in 2014.

Trishka Tantanella Holcomb died of a respiratory infection in January 2014 at age 10. And Rebecca Alison Meyer died from a brain tumor on her sixth birthday last June. The PTA considered many ideas for a memorial, but decided on a Little Free Library. It is intended to, over the years, enable the family and friends of the girls to feel as if they are actively engaging with the memories of their loved ones by sharing favorite books and stories.

David Smith, a Cleveland Heights resident and owner of Silsby Stained Glass and Woodworking, designed and built the library, which is shaped like a castle with purple flags on the turrets. Each girl’s name is inscribed on a butterfly on opposite sides of the structure, and the back holds the image of a tree made from the green fingerprints of every Fairfax student. The purple fingerprints of Rebecca’s classmates, now first-graders, were formed into flowers on the tree. Art teacher Jessica Friedland oversaw that portion of the project, ensuring that every child would be included in the creation of this special memorial.

The new additions were proudly displayed at the PTA’s end-of-the-year picnic on May 26. Families of both girls were invited to the dedication ceremony, and Trishka’s mother, Dortha Holcomb, spoke about the gift of raising children with special needs. Rebecca’s sister Carolyn, who will enter sixth grade at Roxboro Middle School in the fall, sang Katy Perry’s “Firework,” a favorite of her little sister, before the crowd headed towards Lee Road for the unveiling of the library.

The location of the library, near the Fairfax Community Garden at the intersection of Lee and Clarendon roads, was chosen to maximize community access, but it also increases the risk of vandalism. The public is asked to look out for this little castle in the hope that it will remain a special part of the neighborhood for years to come.

A thank-you sign was also installed, recognizing several large donors to the playground project. The side of the sign facing Lee Road sums up the feelings of the Fairfax students, staff and families: “Thank you to the many hearts and hands that contributed to the upgrade of this space. It is a testament to the collaborative spirit of our community.”

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher

Krissy Dietrich Gallagher is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, a graduate of the Heights schools and a former Coventry School teacher. She is an active member of the Fairfax PTA, and is proud to raise her two sons in this community. She blogs at http://krissygallagher.wordpress.com.

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Volume 8, Issue 7, Posted 2:58 PM, 06.29.2015