Gulfport Montessori Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) board has launched a fundraising campaign dubbed “Pennies for Playgrounds” that encourages students to bring in donations of pocket change that will be added to coffers slated to pay for new playground equipment at the school.
The school sent home flyers with students stating that its 2016-17 enrollment shot up by more than 100 students, which has subsequently put a “strain on the play areas that must accommodate P.E. classes and equipment.”
The campaign began in February and has raised approximately $4,000 so far, said PTA board president Barbara Pace. She said the school is still working on a design for the new playground, which will determine the final cost, but the goal for the campaign is $18,000.
Monica St. Paul, whose daughter attends Gulfport Elementary, expressed frustration at the modest goal and slow pace of the campaign. She saw the new playground at nearby Tomlinson Park, which cost the city of Gulfport more than $200,000 to build, and wondered why more can’t be done for schoolchildren.
“I was happy to see this beautiful park being built near my home,” she wrote in an email to the Gabber, “but it’s unfortunate and heart-wrenching to receive a letter from the school asking parents to send students to school with pennies to raise money for a new playground … as much as I wish I had the funds to help, I can’t … it’s just sad to me.”
When contacted for comment, Pace shed some light on the situation. “There’s a big difference between city money and school board money,” she said. “It’s not required of the school board to give us an upgraded playground; however, recess is now a statewide requirement because the Florida PTA pushed for it. Our enrollment increased by 115 students and we simply don’t have enough equipment to accommodate 40 P.E. classes and recess that we provide on non-P.E. days. While our goal might seemingly be a small amount, we are trying to have the children have an ‘ownership’ stake in this. We are asking the students to not just go home and ask for money, but maybe earn it by doing a good deed for a neighbor or meet a family challenge, like reading or doing chores.”
Via phone, St. Paul added, “They’re asking kids to bring in pennies but by the time they get enough pennies, it will be forever.”
Pace, however, said she expects the fundraising effort to pick up steam as community partners come on board with pledges to match whatever is raised within a certain timeframe. “We are reaching out to a lot of sources,” she said. “The Town Shores Women’s Group and General Committee have been very generous … and our principal is already talking to contractors about bids.”
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