“Oooooooh shoot, what was it? Hey, what was the name of that song? You know, from the flash mob that the kids performed at the playground build?”
My colleague Jenn and I stare at each other blankly. We’re listening eagerly as Tesa Davis, 1st grade teacher at New Chelsea Public School, tells us the tale of her school’s brand new playground.
We’re not sure who she’s pleading with on the other end of the line for song titles, but the mystery of this song (and/or perhaps dance move?) has us completely hooked. Tesa continues.
“It’s called, umm the Cupid Shuffle? Or The Roll? The Tootsie Roll! Is that a thing?”
Giggling breaks out on both ends of the phone.
The energy in her voice is infectious and filled with a certain pride, or maybe it’s a new swagger. We’re catching up with her at the end of a journey that began almost two years ago in her classroom.
“Each month we would have a theme and the theme for that month was problem solving,” Tesa remembers.
And just what was the problem that her class wanted to address?
“The kids decided that not having a playground was a major problem. So they started brainstorming ways to solve it.”
Not wanting to waste any time, the kids were planning to take this issue straight to the top.
“I think their first idea was to call-in the President,” Tesa says with a laugh.
But before heading for Capital Hill, she thought it might be worth filling out an application with KaBOOM!, an organization that has been partnering with ForestersTM to build playgrounds since 2006.
“The first time we applied in the fall we didn’t get picked,” Tesa recalls. “But then we tried again in January and we were selected!”
With a build now officially coming to their school, it was time for the New Chelsea students to figure out exactly what this playground should look like. Luckily, they weren’t short on ideas.
“They wanted things like a rock climbing wall, a swimming pool, and maybe a Ferris wheel. Dream big, right? That’s what we told them.”
But it wasn’t just the students who were excited to help with design.
“We had the entire library filled with parents. Some of them went to New Chelsea as children, so they were especially excited,” Tesa explains. “It was also amazing to see parents from different cultures speaking different languages, yet still finding ways to communicate their ideas to each other.”
With designs finalized (no Ferris wheel unfortunately), it was time for build day. A day Tesa remembers vividly.
“It was so hot! Like it was heat advisory hot! But people still showed up ready to work and to do whatever they could to help. They never stopped smiling.”
Then choking up just a little, Tesa goes on to tell us about one mother who came up to her after the build to share her story of taking her two boys over to play.
“That might not sound like a big deal. But it’s a huge deal. These are kids who have legitimately never had a playground to use. The Foresters volunteers changed our whole community.”
But it quickly became clear to us that this change wasn’t simply a sense of satisfaction. It was the start of a whole new attitude the community has adopted towards what improvements they can make. Tesa wants to raise the bar even higher.
“We have 680 kids at New Chelsea but only one playground. So the kids can only use it on certain days because we have to assign shifts. But this build really helped us to be confident in the fact that we will get a second playground.”
“We don’t know how and we don’t know when. But we will get to a point where every kid gets to play on a playground at our school every day.”