Ever tried grabbing a vehicle’s steering wheel after it’s been left in Florida’s summer weather? If so, you might understand just how hot a playground’s equipment can become for children.
Before the adoption of Orange County Public Schools' 2018-19 budget during the Sept. 11 school board meeting, the district did not include funding for playground shade structures in the schools it builds. The district's latest budget allocates $4.5 million for sunshade installation in all existing and future elementary and K-8 schools. So, until recently, it was often left up to parents and teachers to identify ways to acquire money to purchase and install school playground shades for their children.
And the Parent-Teacher Organization at Independence Elementary School, located at 6255 New Independence Parkway in Winter Garden, did exactly that when confronted with Florida’s high heat and the school playground’s lack of shade.
“Sun exposure is a big deal, and with the UV index at, or over, 10 so many days of the year and the hot temperatures, the kids just get overheated,” said PTO President Danielle Taliaferro. “And there was also no place out there for teachers who are monitoring recess and standing out there in the sun. So we had looked at a couple of options to get some shade out there, whether through landscaping or a shade structure like the one we did, and it just seemed like the structure was the best option.”
The school’s PTO was able to raise enough money during a fun-run event held in October 2017 and installed a shade for the playground Aug. 30 at a cost of $17,000.
“In our community, we have a lot of families moving here from other states, and (because) we don’t have an indoor gymnasium, everything takes place outside,” Taliaferro said. “So parents are kind of struck by that, and we had a lot of parents willing to put in the effort to fundraise and make this happen.”
During their fundraising efforts, the PTO raised a little more than $42,000, Taliaferro said. The remaining money will be allocated toward other future projects the PTO has in mind.
“Our school is over capacity — it’s built for ... 780 students, and we’re at 1,300 students right now,” she said. “So what we’re focusing on this year are ways to combat the sheer number of students. We looked at recess options, and now that we have the shade, it’s great, but we have too many kids and too many classrooms, so not all the kids can actually use the recess equipment. So we’re trying to find ways to supplement play space.”
One of their future projects is a covered picnic area/outdoor classroom space that would cost about $13,000, Taliaferro said.
“Our cafeteria here is cramped, so parents can’t really eat lunch with their kids inside,” she said. “So we're hoping to build this space outside that has picnic tables on a concrete slab with shade so that parents have the option to come in and have lunch with their students. It can also be used occasionally as an outdoor classroom area.”