It’s playtime for students at Our Lady of Unity Catholic School

05/10/2014 11:11 PM

05/10/2014 11:11 PM

For years, there hasn’t been a whole lot of playing going on at the playground behind Our Lady of Unity Catholic School in Kansas City, Kan.

The school, at 2646 S. 34th St., couldn’t afford swings or slides, so students kicked balls around or just sat in the shade.

“Some of our little kiddos don’t know how to play,” said principal Nancy Butters. “They were sitting out at recess playing with rocks.”

On Monday, Our Lady of Unity students will be able to climb, slide and swing on shiny new play equipment. The $40,000 set was paid for by eight years of school fundraisers and a $15,000 grant from KaBoom, a nonprofit that aims to put a playground within walking distance of every child in America.

Construction of the school’s new playground started a week ago, when a team of parents and other volunteers assembled to dig holes and pour concrete footings for the new set. On Saturday morning, the makeshift construction team reconvened to put the equipment together like a jumbo-size puzzle.

Kindergarten teacher Janet Schlake watched as two workers attached a yellow bar to the top of a swingset.

“What we like about this is that it’s all built by the community,” Schlake said.

Nearby, a half-dozen physical therapy students from Rockhurst University worked to lug a rotting railroad tie to a trash heap. Earlier, the students had painted fresh hopscotch and four-square courts on the pavement behind the school.

One of the Rockhurst students, Caroline Ludwig, said the new playground is “near and dear to our hearts as physical therapists” because exercise is an important part of children’s health and well-being.

It’s also important to teachers’ sanity. Kids who burn off energy at recess are often more attentive and easier to manage, said first-grade teacher Kathleen Ludwig, Caroline’s sister.

Before the playground was built, Kathleen Ludwig had to get creative to encourage her students to move during recess. Sometimes she would ask them to chase her around the field.

“But it’s hard to say, ‘Go run across the field and back!’ ” Ludwig said.

Students weren’t allowed on the playground construction site for safety reasons, so a group that included C.J. Puebla, the son of PTO President Claudia Vazquez-Puebla, helped out by delivering water bottles to volunteers and serving hot dogs and hamburgers at lunchtime.

C.J., a seventh-grader, said he’d been waiting since kindergarten for the new playground. He said he wanted first dibs on the monkey bars.

Our Lady of Unity students will have less than two weeks to test their new playground before school’s out for summer.

“This has been a dream of our school for many years,” Butters said, “so (students) are sad that school’s ending.”

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