A New Playground Highlights Relationship Between Preschool and Church

A New Playground Highlights Relationship Between Preschool and Church

The Fall season brings a sense of excitement and new beginnings as students trade out their pool gear and beach towels for backpacks and school supplies. The students of the Piedmont Progressive Preschool had something extra to be excited about this year: an improved and expanded playground!

Since its start in October of 2001, the Piedmont Progressive Preschool (PPP) has had a home at Piedmont UU Church. Founders Mary Coppola and Susan Burns, also a Piedmont UU Church member, selected the church due to its convenient location in the University Area, the wooded grounds, attractive classrooms, and reasonable rent. Although the school and the church are separate and function independently of each other, they are close in spirit as they both promote respect for all beings and our environment, freedom of thought and action, and acceptance of individual beliefs.  The relationship was strengthened in 2013 when the Piedmont UU Church board of trustees voted to make the PPP a Sponsored Group of the church.

The playground is a very important space for the PPP students; being outdoors in nature provides unlimited opportunities for creativity, exploration, and motor skill development. When the school began in 2001, the playground was very simple, comprised of a swing set and a few plastic play items. Through the years, additions and improvements were made, including enlarging the fenced area, building the play structure, and installing a wooden sand box. In 2013 the play structure was almost completely rebuilt with new, treated lumber.

Michele Deese, director of the PPP and classroom teacher since 2002, has been envisioning the most recent improvements for the past 5 years. A new fence was a priority as the little old picket fence was rotting away, requiring regular repairs and replacements of pickets. The steps leading down the hill had become unattractive and, more importantly, unsafe. The lack of water access on the playground also presented challenges as teachers would have to drag a very long and heavy hose from the meeting house to the playground to offer water activities.

After years of diligent fundraising efforts, the PPP was able to make the much anticipated improvements during the summer of 2017. The wooded side of the playground was expanded with the construction of a 48 ft. by 10 ft. deck and railing. The old fence was removed and the new 4 ft. high, three rail ranch style fence was built and extended out to the corner of the building to the outside of what had been the garden. The fence now includes 3 gates, including an 8 ft. wide double gate on the lower part of the playground. The old steps were replaced with a newly constructed staircase with railings, providing a safe way for children and adults of all ages to get to the lower part of the playground. River rocks were delivered, and school staff and parent volunteers created a dry creek bed to catch the water from the rain gutters of the building. Plumbing was also brought down to the playground for a hose hook up. The water is tied into the water in the meeting house and has a separate shut-off. During the winter the water will be shut off so there will be no risk of freezing.

Jim Price, BOT President, was extremely helpful and instrumental in making choices for the projects; he helped to obtain board approval as well as advised in choosing contractors and making aesthetic, structural, and safety decisions along the way. His assistance is so very appreciated!

As one might expect, the financial investment on the part of the PPP was substantial; in all, $11,200 was spent on the playground and the painting of the classrooms over the summer. The investment is not purely financial, however; it is an investment of faith and commitment to the continued relationship between the PPP and Piedmont UU Church.  Thanks to the collaboration between the PPP and church leadership and the support of church members, we now have a beautiful open space for all children to play.  The extra space offers a grassy hill, steps, a big wooden deck, a rocky creek bed and areas for planting, as well as a larger running zone. Different textures, terrains, and levels benefit children by strengthening their bodies and offering challenges for motor planning in addition to playground equipment. This space is welcoming and useful for preschool and church families alike; it is the hope that everyone will enjoy the new improvements.

When asked about her hopes for the future in regard to the relationship between the PPP and Piedmont UU Church, Susan Burns feels optimistic. “The ideals of both are so similar — caring for others and our environment, self-determination, critical thinking, and personal responsibility. Of course when humans are involved things can get a little messy, but so far the school and church have coexisted and cooperated to make great things happen. The PPP has done so many projects to improve the classroom, kitchen, playground, and grounds, and the church leadership and members have been incredibly supportive in so many ways. Long may they continue to work together to make a better world!”

On a personal note, I would like to express sincere thanks to Susan Burns and Michele Deese, not only for their willingness to answer questions for this article, but for the years of dedication that brought the PPP to life and continue to make it a place of nurturance, learning, and, of course, play for all students. I feel extremely fortunate that this preschool is a part of our beloved church community.

For more information about the Piedmont Progressive Preschool, feel free to contact me via email at highslicker@gmail.com, check out the bulletin board outside classrooms #1 and #2, or visit the school website at  http://www.progressivepreschool.org.

Becky Schisler, Church-Preschool Liaison