Before sliding into summer break, kindergartners at Jacobson Elementary successfully conducted their own campaign for some much-needed improvements to the school.
After starting their own campaign during the school year, the Chandler Unified School District granted $40,000 to make their wish for a new jungle gym — or three — come true.
Their campaign was the product of project-based learning, in which students and teachers collaborate to find solutions to real-world problems that affect their daily life.
“It’s a big undertaking because these kids are only 5, but they’re experts on play so there was really no one better to go to,” said Jacobson Principal Liz Wolf.
The current playground, Wolf said, is about 30 years old. Its age shows through some sun bleached and rusted parts, she added.
The once robust playground, filled to the brim with spring riders and other exciting features, has been dwindled down to one play set over time.
“When a part broke or we couldn’t use it anymore it was taken out and just never replaced. So now there isn’t a lot [on the playground] to accommodate all 125 kindergartners,” Wolf said.
Over the years there has also been an extensive amount of wood chips added, which students complained had been hindering their play.
“The kids were very opinionated which we definitely expected, but their opinions were more narrow and specific than we thought they’d be,” said Wolf.
Working out a vision for the new play area began with class discussions about the need for a new playground, and what could be improved moving forward.
After getting students on board, the kindergarteners collaborated and made “thinking maps,” which gave them the chance to solidify their ideas on paper and think critically about each of their suggestion’s level of importance and relevance.
The kids highlighted their concerns for long wait times to use the equipment, and in turn suggested that the new playground offer three smaller, separate areas of play to reduce congestion.
“It was so insightful for us,” Wolf said. “The adults don’t have to deal with lines for the slides so we had no idea what an inconvenience it was for our kinders.”
Once the children were able to visualize their aspirations for the new playground, they wrote letters to district administrators about the need for an upgrade — with a little help from their teachers.
The districts’ response was of total support and the new playground is set to be installed this summer.
The students will not use the play sets next year as they will move on to the playground designated for first-graders, but their legacy will live on through a ceremony and a plaque commemorating their efforts.
“It was a wonderful lesson that you can make a difference if you work together,” said Wolf.
“They were very proud, like ‘wow we have the ability to make change,’ which is a pretty powerful message. They will be heard, and what they think counts,” she added.
While Wolf is excited to see the kindergartner’s vision come to fruition, she said it is not the first time using project-based learning has lead to great achievements at the school.
In April, a big rig on I-10 slammed into a vehicle operated by Stacy Sullivan with her three children — all Jacobson Elementary students — and her niece.
Sullivan died from her injuries, and all four children were injured.
After hearing of the accident, fifth-graders at Jacobson voiced their desire to help the family financially and support the recovery of their peers.
The classes used project-based learning to set up a lemonade “buck a cup” fundraiser to raise $380 for the family.
“The project taught them a lot about how to process troubling information, and transform it into positive change for our community,” said Wolf.
The principal said all 150 fifth-graders were involved in generating a plan of action for the fundraiser, marketing the event, tracking progress throughout the day and ensuring supplies remained stocked.
Much like the kindergarten class at the school, the fifth-graders, “felt empowered to make improvements. They learned they can make huge differences when they collaborate and put words to action,” said Wolf.
The principal said next year teachers and staff are going to make an active effort to incorporate project-based learning more often, and encourage kids to make positive change in the community.