Students of John Ruhrah Elementary and Middle School were excited about their new playground, even during summer vacation. They are, from left: Jennifer Jara-Siza, Brian Perez, Jim Jara-Siza, Monica Lemus-Rodriguez, Dariana Lopez, Alex Serrano, Hernan Torres and Noelia Guaricela. | Photo by Erik Zygmont
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Principals from across the U.S. put some sweat equity into a new playground for John Ruhrah Elementary and Middle School. Building the playground was the annual Community Service Day event for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. - Photo by Erik Zygmont
Lauren Watson, an education associate at John Ruhrah Elementary and Middle School, tests the slide at the school’s new playground. | Photo by Erik Zygmont
“I think it’s nice,” said student Monica Lemus-Rodriguez of John Ruhrah Elementary and Middle School’s new playground. “We don’t have to grow up too fast. We’ve still got a little kid inside of us.”
The playground was actually built last Wednesday, July 10, by principals from across the country. The National Association of Elementary School Principals chose Baltimore as the location for its annual conference, and the association chose John Ruhrah School, located in Greektown at Fait Ave. and Rappolla St., as the beneficiary of its annual Community Service Day.
Mary Donnelly, principal of John Ruhrah, said that her school had applied to receive the new playground. The old playground, with missing pieces and safety issues, was dismantled in mid-May, she said.
“Parents were raising money to put in a new playground, but we weren’t anywhere near where we needed to be,” she said.
Mark White, president elect of NAESP and principal of Hintgen Elementary School in La Crosse, Wis., said that this year is the second time in 10 years that the association has held its conference in Baltimore.
“It got a lot of rave reviews the last time, so we came back,” he said.
White added that although he and the NAESP executive board had been in meetings most of last week with little leisure time, they had dined in Little Italy, at Sabatino’s.
“It was very good,” he said. “Very good.”
The playground equipment, which includes slides, climbing walls, bridges and platforms, was donated by Landscape Structures, a Minnesota firm that has partnered with NAESP over the last five years.
“It’s just something we do with NAESP,” said company spokesman Steve Hare, who was onsite helping with the installation. “We want to come in and improve the community, and also give [the principals] a chance to give back to the community.”
He said that doing a construction project with a bunch of principals is a smooth endeavor.
“They’re all leaders,” said Hare. “They can take a set of plans and just run with it. They don’t require the level of instruction that the average group needs for a community service project.”
The inclusive playground includes a “transfer station” that allows children in wheelchairs to access the equipment.
“I think this playground is really going to change our community,” said student Jennifer Jara-Siza. “The little kids are going to be so happy.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake attended the groundbreaking for the new playground on Wednesday morning.
The NAESP annual conference features educational events for principals in K-8 schools. Donnelly said that she would be attending a workshop on educating students living with poverty, and a workshop on technology, “iPad Essentials for School Leaders.”
by Erik Zygmont