Pupils’ projects raise funds for new school playground

Staff Writer

ABERDEEN — In a season filled with joy and the spirit of helping others, second grade students learned what it means to give back.

Those students did learn that through fundraising efforts, it proves that no matter how big or small you are, anyone can make a difference in their community.

At the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District’s Dec. 14 Board of Education meeting, Lisa Bauer, a second grade enrichment teacher at Strathmore, Cliffwood and Ravine Drive Elementary Schools, discussed a service project her students have worked on over the past several weeks, aimed at aiding efforts towards the construction of a new playground at Cambridge Park Preschool.

“When our year began, I knew I wanted to begin a student-led service project,” Bauer said. “I had no idea how successful it would be and how much the students or I would learn along the way.”

According to Bauer, her students showed a commitment to the service project that surprised her and made her proud.

“My students surprised me in many ways,” Bauer said. “They did all the research, learning about what was going on in our community, what the needs were, and were so empathetic toward the needs of others, cooperated well with each other and just took the initiative and the project even further than we had originally planned.”

After considering many fundraising options, Bauer said her Ravine Drive secondgraders decided to make paper hearts to sell to staff, family, students and community members alike.

“They sold the hearts for $1 each, and those who bought them got to write their names on the hearts, which were then displayed in a ‘Rainbow of Helpers’ bulletin board at the school,” she said.

Approximately $324 was raised through the sales of the hearts and was donated toward the Cambridge Park Preschool Playground.

“My students at Strathmore decided to sell hand prints for $1 each and created a bulletin board as well of all the prints with the names of everyone who donated,” Bauer said.

Through the sales of the prints, approximately $376 was raised and put toward the Cambridge Park Preschool Playground project.

For their project, Bauer’s Cliffwood Elementary School second grade enrichment students made more than 200 blank books that students and staff could purchase and write in.

“It was hard work, but they didn’t give up,” Bauer said.

Selling the blank books also for $1 each, the students were able to raise $300 toward the Cambridge Park Preschool Playground.

“All of my students went above and beyond to help Cambridge Park Preschool build a new playground for students of all abilities,” Bauer said.

Bauer’s second grade enrichment students at Cliffwood, Strathmore and Ravine Drive Elementary Schools raised a total of $1,000 for the new playground, and a check was donated to the Cambridge Park PTO at the Dec. 14 Board of Education meeting.

“Although my students learned many academic lessons during this unit, they really went through a whole process of putting together a service project —brainstorming ideas, getting the ideas approved, advertising, selling, collecting the money … just organizing the whole thing, and I think the lessons they learned are the ones that will take them very far in life,” Bauer said.

Cambridge Park PTO member Megan Taraszkiewicz said she is amazed at how inspired the students were to get involved and raise money for the new playground.

“I can’t believe they were able to raise $1,000 in such a short amount of time,” she said. “They really rallied behind us and did such an amazing job and I think they showed that every little bit can help make a difference.”

Bauer said while the new Cambridge Park Preschool Playground will be a great addition to the district and community, the inspiration to build the structure involves a sad tale.

“This is a wonderful cause that I was able to get my students involved in [but] it actually came about because of a very sad story,” she said. “There was a little boy named Owen [Taraszkiewicz], who went to the preschool, who passed away due to complications of a virus in 2013, so they wanted to build this playground in his honor so that students of all abilities can play.”

Taraszkiewicz said that her son Owen loved playing on playgrounds and in lieu of flowers, asked for donations to help build a new memorial playground in the district in his honor that children of all abilities could go and enjoy.

“The playground right now just doesn’t meet the needs of all the students and children,” she said. “Our biggest goal is to provide the school and the community with a playground that is handicapped-accessible so that children of all abilities can come and enjoy … and I am so glad we will finally be able to give this to them.”

Taraszkiewicz said the nonprofit Where Angels Play Foundation — established to create safe, fun places for children to be children — has offered to work with the PTO and community to build the new playground for a late spring or early summer groundbreaking.

“They are an incredible organization, and we look forward to having them come in and help us build the playground,” she said.

Among other playgrounds, the nonprofit has built 26 in areas damaged by superstorm Sandy in honor of the 26 students and teachers who were killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14, 2012, and Taraszkiewicz said she is looking forward to students having the new playground to enjoy.

“The Where Angels Play Foundation said they can have the playground built in about two days, which is great, and we are hoping to have it ready for the preschool’s Fun Day, which takes place every June,” she said.

“Through our very successful Cambridge Park 5K Race/Walk and other fundraisers, we’re donating about $40,000 to the foundation, and hopefully they can pay it forward and use this money on the next playground they build.”