2015-01-15 / Around Town

Students Ask Schools to Fund Playground

By James Merolla


Keana McCants accepts a certificate of achievement from School Committee member David R. Carlin III. McCants was among the Thompson Middle School eighth graders who were recognized for their participation in Generation Citizen – a project that helps them learn civics while raising money to build a new playground for fifth graders at their school. (Photo by James Merolla) Keana McCants accepts a certificate of achievement from School Committee member David R. Carlin III. McCants was among the Thompson Middle School eighth graders who were recognized for their participation in Generation Citizen – a project that helps them learn civics while raising money to build a new playground for fifth graders at their school. (Photo by James Merolla) The Newport School Committee received a noble funding request from an unexpected source on Jan. 13, when eighth grade students from Thompson Middle School asked for money to build a playground.

But not for them. Students participating in Generation Citizen – a social studies/civics program that gives children real life lessons and experiences through various projects – told the committee they needed $20,000 to $100,000 to build a working playground for the fifth graders at their school.

Those speaking for the funds at the meeting on Tuesday were students Keana McCants, Dylan Stahl, and Shannon Ward. Arthur Gaskell helped with the poster presentation. Other students involved in the project include Davon Antone, Cosmo Miglio, Kimani Huntley, Dante McCray, Alyssa Dupree, Andrice Ferebee, Austin Ayala, and Brandon Carter.

“The kids are incredibly excited and proud of the work they have done,” said Barbara Walton-Faria, who approached officials last summer at Thompson Middle School through her role in Generation Citizen, where students take skills learned in school and go out into the community to solve problems.

Students identified the problem literally in their own backyard. Several years ago, a fifth grade was added to Thompson (grades 5-8) but that grade doesn’t have a recreational space in the area. The eighth graders witnessed the fifth graders attempting to play on black asphalt and sidewalks at recess.

“Our students don’t have a proper playground,” McCants told the committee. “They don’t have proper physical activity.” She, Stahl and Ward requested a basketball court, a swing and slide and other equipment with cost estimates ranging from $2,000 to $100,000.

“So, what would you like the School Committee to do?” School Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines asked.

“Help us raise money,” came the response.

“Madame Chairman, we need to get the City Council involved,” School Committee member David R. Carlin III said to laughter.

Thomas Kerr-Vanderslice, Rhode Island director of Generation Citizen, said, “This is an amazing example of what our program is all about, to help them understand civics and the role that the School Committee plays. I am incredibly inspired (with) the roles eigth graders played helping fifth graders.”

“It’s not really about the product, it’s about the process,” Jaime Crowley, principal at Thompson Middle School, told the committee. “These were eighth graders thinking about younger students. I always think about my Boston College Jesuit tradition of commitment to service.” In other news: .Superintendent Colleen Jermain also announced the appointment of Allynn Gantham as the new Director of Student Services. Gantham, who has served as ALP Special Education teacher at Barrington High School since 2007, has three master's degrees from Providence College in history, special education, and science in education, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and history from Clark University. She also did postgraduate work at Simmons College.

“We are thrilled and fortunate to have Allynn join our team. She comes from a very high performing district and complements our initiatives for going forward," said Jermain. "Allynn puts students and their interests first.” . Jermain said that 20 families with children (38 total students) in the school district were classified as homeless. .Jermain also discussed a possible partnership and the sharing of services with the Portsmouth School Department, especially regarding IT services and the student information system called ASPEN.

She said it would be a six-month proposition to weigh the program and then assess whether to continue with the accord. “We are still looking at all options,” said Jermain. .As an agenda item, the monthly expenditure and revenue report was not offered at the meeting. Jermain said that Director of Administration Joan Tracey was finalizing several items within it and it could not be submitted at the Jan. 13 meeting. .During the public forum portion of the meeting, Mike Cullen introduced a new social media tool called “Next Door,” to integrate the public’s opinions into administrative and departmental annual goals. .The public was reminded of a Pell School pre-K fair on Saturday, Jan. 24, starting at 10 a.m. with a snow date of Jan. 31.

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