Beverly Farms Elementary School principal Laura Siegelbaum showed a picture of the jungle gym that used to stand at the end of the blacktop area next to the school building. Now it’s just a rectangle covered with mulch.
The playground equipment was destroyed by a tree that fell during Hurricane Isabel in September of last year. The tree fell through the center of the long structure, leaving a splintered mess, which Siegelbaum had removed due to safety concerns.
The storm left Beverly Farms’ students without any outdoor climbing equipment except for a much smaller slide at the Postoak side of the blacktop.
“They were all over [the old equipment] like a measles rash,” Siegelbaum said, “so they miss it a lot.”
Montgomery County Public Schools has told Beverly Farms officials that it does not have the budget to replace the school’s equipment. So Siegelbaum and the Beverly Farms PTA are taking the matter into their own hands.
They’ve started a campaign to raise $25,000, the amount they say it will take to prepare the land and replace the equipment using one of MCPS’ approved vendors.
The school has already raised approximately $6,500 since starting the effort last month. The money came from donations from parents and community members. In addition, the school has placed a “pennies for the playground” jar and progress display in the front entryway, giving students a way to participate in the effort.
“Due to severe budget constraints, Montgomery County Public Schools — the usual source of playground funding — does not have the money to replace our equipment,” read a letter signed by Siegelbaum and Beverly Farms PTA president Francie Cleary. “Current budget projections indicate it could be decades before our school would be in line to get new playground equipment!”
The letter was sent not only to Beverly Farms parents but also to nearby neighborhood associations and local businesses.
“Maybe your children went to Beverly Farms years ago. Maybe your grandchildren like to come to the school to play when they visit you,” read the letter sent to neighbors who might not currently have a child at Beverly Farms.
Neighbors and community members have expressed dissatisfaction at being asked to pay for an item that their tax dollars are already directed for.
“It is a basic item. It’s important because of keeping kids fit, and there’s such a concern nationwide about childhood obesity,” said Cleary, noting that the equipment situated at the end of the blacktop is especially important, as it can be used even when the students are not allowed to use the fields behind because they are too wet or muddy.
“We had understood that Beverly Farms was low on the list for playground funding … so we decided we’d be proactive and go and raise the funds,” she said.
But griping about the scarce funding from MCPS does nothing to solve the problem, said Siegelbaum and others. They’re taking an upbeat attitude toward the fund-raising.
“It’s a really nice thing we can rally around. It’s a way to unite the community for positive reasons instead of all these serious things we’ve had to deal with,” such as concerns about security, Siegelbaum said.
WITH THAT SPIRIT in mind, Siegelbaum has let students and parents know that they can expect a very special surprise when the fund-raising meter hits $20,000.
Elvis is coming.
“If the community raises $20,000, Mrs. Siegelbaum has connections with Elvis Presley, and he will be coming back,” said the principal, whose office is decorated with Elvis memorabilia.
“I’m from Kentucky, and he’s from Memphis” Siegelbaum said, noting that her shared regional identity with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is one of several factors contributing to those connections.
But the school has a long way yet to go, Siegelbaum said. Though fund-raising is off to a good start, an early spike in donations is likely to level off, and the school is planning to look at possible business partnerships and fund-raising events to help raise the money. The goal is to have equipment in place by the start of the next school year.
“There’s a good chance we’re not going to make it. Of course we need help,” Siegelbaum said. “The next step would be fund-raisers, and Elvis Presley.”
“If this is something Elvis believes in, we should do it,” she said.