Fostering Happiness and Success in the Classroom

Last Updated: July 27, 2012

This article appeared in the July 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Two North Carolina elementary schools will use funds from a nationally influential grant to address a challenge familiar to many high-poverty rural communities: the playground.

L. B. Yancey and Pinkston Street Elementary Schools in Vance County, North Carolina are recipients of grants from the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

As a partner organization of the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship and School Funds, the Rural School and Community Trust is entrusted with identifying and nominating rural and small town schools for the award.

"We are very happy to nominate schools for this award," says Rural Trust Executive Director Doris Terry-Williams. “These schools are accomplishing good things in challenging circumstances and we are proud to further their work.”

Both schools will use the funding to create high quality playgrounds and foster healthy living. One school also will use part of its grant to increase computer access for its students.

“We can get other grants for some things,” says Heddie Somerville, principal at Pinkston Street, “but not for playground equipment, which is very expensive. This grant will allow us to renovate our playground and bring it up to code.”

According to Gail Levin, director of the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship and School Funds, "these and other grants from the School Fund reflect the late philanthropist Leonore Annenberg's desire to add value to the school experience of each child. "The School Fund," she added, "provides up to 15 awards each year to U.S. elementary schools with the highest concentration of poor children and a specific project designed to enhance the educational program and general well-being of the students."

The value of play

Although a playground is generally taken as a staple of elementary school experience, many economically struggling rural communities find that building and maintaining a safe playground is a serious, even cost prohibitive challenge.

And while neither states nor local school districts allocate funding for playgrounds in many places, research reinforces our general awareness that healthy play promotes a child's intellectual and creative development as well as emotional and physical health.

“We want to foster some of the giggles and happiness you see on the playground back into the classroom,” says Somerville, adding, “We also found research that productive play builds character and helps students learn to be responsible and to treat each other with respect, so we try to provide as much free play and safe play as possible.”

At L. B. Yancey, the school’s play equipment was more than 30 years old and until last year the only indoor play area was a 15’ x 20’ trailer. “We would have to repair our play set and keep it closed until it was inspected,” explains principal Clarence Hicks.

The grant will enable the school to install new playground equipment for its younger students and a fitness center for older students. “Our physical education department had done an assessment and found that many of our students are overweight and out of shape. The idea of the playset is that kids get good exercise while they are playing. And, the fitness center gives kids a lot of exercise to build agility and strength. We want to give our students the opportunity to be fit.”

“We want to give our students the opportunity to be fit.”
— Clarence Hicks, Principal, L. B. Yancey Elementary School

Older students at Yancey will keep a notebook to record their progress as they work throughout the year on the fitness center’s fifteen stations. In addition, the school is coordinating with the district’s child nutrition program to promote healthy eating along with better fitness.

Yancey will also use part of their grant award to create a second computer lab at the school. The additional computer access will support the school’s reading program, enable students to do more online research, and help students practice for the computer-based Common Core assessments.

Both Somerville and Hicks express appreciation to the Leonore Annenberg School Fund.

“We really want to thank the people who gave us this opportunity, the opportunity to think about some things we could do with our students that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” says Hicks.

“I’d like to say how appreciative we are of a grantor being out there for rural schools like us,” says Somerville. “When we learned about the grant, we challenged teachers and students to learn more about our benefactor, the late philanthropist Leonore Annenberg, and her legacy School Fund. We want our students to see that their work can lead to good results and that there are people out there willing to help.”

About the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children

The Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. By request, partner organizations nominate public elementary schools serving children with great need. The Fund provides educational resources of immediate and direct value to the children.

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Read more from the July 2012 Rural Policy Matters.