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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Herald & Review.

DECATUR — Garfield Montessori School's playground has only four swings — for more than 370 students.

“The number of swings that we have has been a major concern,” said teacher Sarah Pritts. “After the second week of school, they're like, 'I'm never going to have a turn on this, so I'm just going to hang out over here.'”

That's just one of many reasons why the school's Parent-Teacher Association has made it a mission this year to raise the money to get new playground equipment installed and hopes to have Phase I complete by May 2019. PTA President Cathy Briggs said the goal is to raise $100,000.

When the building was known as John Adams School, it served kindergarten through sixth grades, and there were about 200 students in the building. Four swings probably still weren't enough even then, Pritts said, but with preschool through eighth grade students at Garfield, and so many outdoors at the same time, four is woefully inadequate.

With 374 students currently enrolled, they should have 18 to 20 swings. With as many as 150 of them trying to share four pieces of equipment, it's inevitable that some kids never get a turn.

The equipment was installed when the school was built in 1964, Briggs said, and does not meet today's safety standards.

“Most of it is not even purchasable anymore, because (companies) don't make (those pieces) anymore for safety reasons,” Briggs said. “We're grandfathered in. The playground representative from the company we're buying from came and looked at it and said, 'We don't make that anymore, we don't make that anymore …' because it's just not safe for kids.”

Most of the schools built during the years baby boomers were packing schools following World War II had the same kind of equipment, Briggs said. For example, Garfield has the domed climbing apparatus with rust and peeling paint — despite of many attempts to repaint it — among other equipment.

In addition to new acquiring equipment, Ryan McSherry, who owns From the Ground Up Landscapes has donated the equipment, plants and expertise to create a natural education area adjacent to the play area, which volunteers installed Saturday.

With guidance from Steve Kline, the district's director of buildings and grounds, and the help of his family, McSherry said, the ground, paths and brickwork had already been completed before Saturday. Volunteers spend the day spreading mulch, putting in plants and building the willow teepee.

“The kids got really involved with it, too, and loved it,” McSherry said. “That's what it's all about, to be excited about nature and get away from the screen.”

A big part of Montessori method education is outdoor play and work, and founder Maria Montessori believed that spending time outdoors was necessary to health of both body and mind. Briggs said the hope is that teachers will be able to use the natural learning space for a variety of classes and that the surrounding neighborhood will also enjoy it.

Briggs said the group also hopes to install a walking track soon, which the neighborhood will also be welcome to use.

A variety of events are planned to raise the money, with the first being a Barn Dance on Sept. 14.

“No kid goes out there and is like 'Yay! Awesome playground!'” Pritts said. “There are so many awesome playgrounds throughout Decatur now, and ours is just really, really sad.

"At Garfield, we are unlike some other buildings that stop going outside through the winter," she added. "We're out there. Our kids come dressed for the weather and we're out there playing.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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