Thomas Whelan grinned as he bounced onto the new jungle gym at P.S. 71. Decades of Pelham Bay students have made do with a bare asphalt playground. Not Whelan.
“There is the slide,” the five-year old said. “There is the curly slide. There are the steps. I play tag. I play house.”
P.S. 71 has a jungle gym and a renovated playground thanks to Councilman James Vacca and Out2Play, a non-profit that helps city schools. Vacca set aside $150,000 for the renovation; the Carson Family Trust set aside funds as well.
“I graduated from P.S. 71,” Vacca informed a kindergarten class on Friday, October 16. “When I was here, the school had no jungle gym.”
The renovated playground boasts a running track, a kickball field and a pair of basketball courts. Out2Play painted a map of the United States inside the running track and installed a pair of chess tables. The non-profit also planted trees.
“The playground is great,” P.S. 71 principal Lance Cooper said. “The students love it.”
Vacca chose Out2Play because the non-profit works fast. It designed and renovated the P.S. 71 playground in only nine months. Out2Play has renovated playgrounds at P.S. 96 and P.S. 97 in Pelham Parkway, also at Vacca’s request. Out2Play includes students, teachers and parents in its designs. Students, parents and teachers at P.S. 71 asked the non-profit to add basketball hoops and a running track. The P.S. 71 playground is smaller than some, so it was a challenge for Out2Play to squeeze in all its requests. The new running track is longer and thinner than most. Out2Play painted a handy equation nearby: one mile = 5,280 feet = 18.5 laps. Sarah Gilbert of Out2Play observed recess from the roof when the playground was done.
“It was fun to watch the students run relays,” Gilbert said.
Studies suggest that students perform better in class when allowed to play. P.S. 71 kindergarten teacher Lynn McManus sees a difference in the classroom. Her students play outside for at least ten minutes each day.
“The students are able to expend energy,” McManus said.
Cooper thanked Vacca.
“He does a lot,” Cooper said. “He arranged for a gorgeous playground.”
Out2Play renovated the playground during the summer, so no P.S. 71 students missed recess time. The non-profit completed its work in August.
“As much as we love reading and writing and arithmetic, we also love to play,” Vacca told Whelan and his friends. “Exercise is good.”
There are 1,640 students at P.S. 71, kindergarten through eighth grade. Out2Play has renovated 11 Bronx playgrounds in 2009.