As he took a quick break from painting signs, earlier this summer, Fitzroy Hunt surveyed the scene before him. Everywhere along the front of Achievement Preparatory Academy Wahler Place campus in Southeast D.C., and pouring into the street, were scores of volunteers laboring in the heat and hot sun.
Achievement Prep’s students have the CarMax Foundation and local non-profit KaBOOM! to thank for facilitating the 2,500-square-foot playground project. KaBOOM!, a national non-profit, is focused on ensuring that children get the daily balanced and active play they need.
At one end, crews built wooden benches and sizable flower holders from scratch, while directly in front of the school, one man stood on a mountain of mulch shoveling material to individuals standing at the base with wheelbarrows. Several other men and women performed a similar tasks near to the ground and volunteers wheeled each filled wheelbarrow up a stony grade to the new playground under construction.
On the playground itself, dozens of other volunteers – most of them CarMax employees from offices in Northern Virginia, Baltimore, and other parts of Maryland – poured concrete, constructed a colorful jungle gym that children from the school and community would soon climb, and worked on landscaping and other tasks.
In all, 200 volunteers built the playground in about six hours. “When I used to drop my son off, I’d see the playground and say, ‘That’s not good,’” said Hunt, a parent volunteer with a child in 5th grade. “This is my second year. I enjoy doing this because the playground wasn’t up to standard and now, with our work, it’s a benefit to the kids.”
“I’m so excited because one of our beliefs is that we’re a community school,” said Shantelle Wright, Achievement Prep’s founder and CEO. “There was no play space before, but on completion, we’ll have swings, a rock wall, and picnic benches. This will be a very powerful statement.” She founded the public charter school in 2008.
Wright, a Rochester, New York native who jokingly calls herself a “reformed attorney,” said she always wanted to be a teacher so that she could provide others the quality education she enjoyed. “A quality school can change a community,” she said. “That’s our goal. Too many children – because of their zip code – don’t get a quality education.”
According to KaBOOM! officials, children in America are playing less than any previous generation. Currently, only one in four youth get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity or active play per day, with the number of younger children only slightly higher.
One in three kids is obese or overweight, experts on child health say. In addition, children are not developing critical 21st century skills – such as collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, resilience, and empathy – that they’ll need to succeed as adults in the global economy.
To address the problems of reduced time for recess and lack of access to playgrounds, employees from both companies have built more than 2,500 playgrounds and improved thousands more across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. “It’s essential for our kids to play every day. This gives them that opportunity,” said Kathryn Lusk, KaBoom!’s director of project development. “We live in an environment where the holistic view of child development isn’t the norm. We’re saying the whole child matters. Physical, emotional and social development is gaining currency.”