Art students, inclusive playground front and center at committee meeting

An inclusive playground received a major bump in fundraising as the Shamong Township Committee closes its recognition of Indian Mills Memorial School students.

Regular business was put aside Jan. 4 as the Shamong Township Committee highlighted the artwork of middle school students and awarded a grant to the school district.

Eighth grade students from Indian Mills Memorial School, their parents and art teacher Luke Bowe attended the committee meeting to donate artwork to the municipal courtroom. Artists Jayna Phillips, Laurel Robbins, Addison and Alex Butcher and Wyatt Smith donated their pieces to the township’s municipal courtroom, where their interpretations of various landscapes were displayed.

This is our favorite part of the meeting, when we have our community highlights,” Mayor Michael DiCroce said during the township session. “This is another great way for us to appreciate what’s going on.

“We love what you did and would like to extend our congratulations.

Smith, who shared how he got into art recently, painted his watercolor creation through the perspective of gazing at leaves, starting at a tree’s roots. Bowe recalled directing Phillips during his classes to revisit her painting and get more intense with the impressionism style she used.

The students come up to me and say they’re done, but I always say, ‘Well, tweak this’ or ‘tweak that’ and they always get angry because I send them back to their desks and make them do more work,” Bowe said with a laugh.

Phillips admitted spending roughly three hours on her beach sunset piece. The Butcher sisters reflected on where they sought inspirations for their cubism. Robbins revealed that her grassy work was created with pastels and tape.

My daughter Samantha is an artist and I watch her do her projects, and how many hours she puts into it,” the mayor shared. “When we look at a beautiful piece of artwork, we don’t really appreciate how much time is put into it.”

In other business, Clerk and Administrator Sue Onorato announced the township is allocating $50,000 of its $100,000 grant from the Burlington County Municipal Park Grant to the district to build an inclusive playground.

I recognize the school has been doing some funding along with the parents, but this is a bump I believe will pay for the majority of the hardware,” Onorato added.

DiCroce recalled when Laura Hoffman, curriculum director, stopped by his law office to request a $50 or $100 donation.

I said, ‘We could give you $50,000,'” he recalled. “It just so happened a few days before that we had received the grant.

“This is an all-inclusive playground, meaning children with disabilities can play and adults with disabilities can assist their children on it,” Superintendent Christine Vespe explained.

“It’s play for all and it develops a lot for our children.”

The grant covers $50,000 of the expected $50,770 in equipment expenses. Vespe hopes to generate excitement throughout the township and to kick off in September with a community build day — composed of volunteers — to minimize labor costs.

Logistics of the playground and significant portions of the fundraisers for it were coordinated largely by the Indian Mills Home and School Association and the Shamong Education Foundation.

The two groups collaborated to write and receive smaller grants for the playground, secure equipment and costs and learn how to best model the playscape.

What is the best about this is, any child in Shamong can use this,” IMMS Principal Timothy Carroll insisted. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair or what your disability is — you can enjoy this playground.

“In a regular playground you can’t do that, but with this, anybody, literally anybody, can come and enjoy the playground