December 13, 2012
Adopt-a-School: Inner-city school struggles to replace condemned playground #vansunkids
By Gerry Bellett
With so many needs it’s hard for an inner-city educator like Lorraine Terretta to put a new playground at the top of her wish list for help from The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School campaign.
“I understand all the political stuff around asking for a playground,” said Terretta, acknowledging the instinctive hesitance donors might feel at being asked to pay for something they likely believe is the responsibility of the school district.
But Terretta, vice-principal of Lord Selkirk Annex on Dumfries just south of Kingsway, has a dilemma.
All the wooden playground equipment that provides exercise and release for her Kindergarten to Grade 4 students at recess or after school has been condemned by the district and has to be removed.
She has been offered a used, non-wooden playground presently installed at Tillicum Annex, in the docklands area. In February, Tillicum will receive a new one courtesy of Port Metro Vancouver.
The snag is that it will cost $7,800 to hire school board workers to dig up Tillicum’s playground, move it to Selkirk Annex and install it.
Given the financial state of affairs in the education system, there’s no money in the school board’s budget to do this since, over the years, expenditures for new playgrounds have been off-loaded onto Parent Advisory Councils.
Parents in wealthier areas of Vancouver have shrugged this off as an inconvenience and come up with the money.
Not here though.
Terretta is in charge of one of Vancouver’s smallest inner-city schools — 73 students and four teachers rattling around in a building designed for a much larger population with a number of classrooms closed up.
The school is in an area where most parents are new immigrants working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“I have taught in schools where within a year parents have raised $40,000 to build a playground. But I can’t do that here. We’re only a small school. Our parents are really hard working, many of whom do two or three jobs. I can’t ask for extra money for a playground. It would be asking them to cut into their basic needs,” said Terretta.
She has organized a few fundraising drives and has succeeded in raising $600 this year, at which rate the playground will be erected in 2025.
“I know you can say a playground isn’t a basic need for a child, but in my mind it is,” she said.
“When they leave school at 3 p.m. a lot of kids are in the playground, it’s their release. Throughout the day they use the equipment for phys-ed. We’re part of Action School B.C. and that equipment is used for this program, so it’s part of our curriculum,” she said.
Then there’s the greater community that uses the playground when school is over or during weekends and holidays, so uprooting the equipment will cause a loss of neighbourhood facilities.
In February she is planning to ask her parents to help remove Tillicum’s playground and store it.
“We need to be part of that.”
As for the school’s other needs, a number of generous corporate and individual donors have come forward through Adopt-a-School — this year and last — to help out.
Last December, staff from Jack FM radio station organized a large Christmas party for the school and brought in gifts for all the children, as well as money that was used for emergency food vouchers for families in financial difficulties and to buy winter clothing.
Jack FM is coming back again on Dec. 18 to stage another Christmas party.
“Everyone’s very excited,” said Terretta.
Also, the Vancouver law firm Davis LLP stepped forward earlier this year to take the school under its wing.
In the spring the staff collected $3,180, which was matched by the company and then the total was matched by The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund, resulting in the school receiving $12,720 that was used to buy a Smartboard, books and other equipment.
Lawyers from the firm now regularly visit the school to read to the children.
“The school gave us a list of books they wanted so we have bought them and when our staff go there to read, they leave the book behind for their library,” said Cyndi Millar, the partner responsible for the firm’s charitable donations.
A few weeks ago the law firm’s staff donated new and used winter clothing for children.
Millar said they were inspired to get help by the example of Colliers International, the Vancouver real estate company that adopted Hasting Elementary earlier this year and provides funds for the school’s breakfast program.
“When I read about Colliers it made it seem something quite doable. We appreciate the opportunity to see what we are donating to. And helping people in need is very rewarding,” said Millar.
This week Vancouver urban planner Colette Parsons approached the school and offered to buy winter boots and socks for a whole class. She imagined spending $1,000.
Before she knew it she found herself committing to buying a new pair of boots, socks and some chocolate for the entire school — 73 of everything — at more than double her budget,
Her husband then offered to put up $500.
At this point in the proceedings — $700 short of her target and considering putting the arm on all her friends and relatives — she was contacted by The Vancouver Sun.
She was told the Sun Children’s Fund would match her and her husband’s contribution in effect providing $3,000 to the school to buy boots, socks and chocolate for everyone, with some left over.
She’s now received a list of boot sizes and has been down to the 3 Vets store on Yukon Street to place an order.
“The reason we can do this for $2,200 is because 3 Vets gave us a deal once they knew what we were doing,” she said.
“Oh, and I’m very happy with the Sun stepping in.”