What started as an idea to upgrade the playground at Tatem Elementary School four years ago has come to fruition, thanks to funding from the school’s Parent Teacher Association.
Board of education members and administrators held a ribbon-cutting on Friday, Sept. 8 for a new play area geared to 2- to 12-year olds. It has a hammock, an inclusive carousel, triple bars, a large structure with slides and other features.
The playground’s aging equipment over the last 20 years has included a balance beam and rusted triple bars that were not the right height and donated features that were close to four decades old.
Tatem PTA President Lauren Zonies described how she got involved with the project right before COVID.
“(There was) a lot of back and forth because there was a lot of uncertainty with what was going to happen with the schools, if this space was still going to be available, if kindergarten was still going to be here,” she recalled. “So we changed the scope a few times. But this playground is special because it is geared towards 2 years old to 12 years old, which spans the entirety of the students at Tatem.
“If kindergarten students leave this school at any point, it is still a great space for the kids to use.”
Zonies alluded to conversations in the district about potentially moving preschool and kindergarten students to a centralized location that resulted in a playground geared to first through eighth graders.
The Tatem PTA raised more than $100,000 for the playground over the years and Zonies acknowledged that initial support from both the Haddonfield Rotary Club and the Haddonfield Foundation kickstarted the project while it was still in concept mode.
“They gave us grants totaling 7,000, and that was an incredibly generous and supportive kickstart to help us in this project,” she noted. “So we’re very grateful for that.”
Some of the PTA’s annual projects have included the Boosterthon, the annual Tatem fair, bake sales and a variety of community events for families and students.
Prior to funding for the playground update, the PTA supported improvements to the play area for older kids across a field at Tatem. Principal Donetta Beatty noted that the new playground is for the youngest learners.
“When they created this, it’s amazing, because now children are able to have independence,” she pointed out. “They’re able to navigate this on their own because they want to do things without your help.”
At the new playground’s ribbon-cutting, a group of boys piled into its hammock and kids ran around and walked the net bridge. An inclusive carousel has access for individuals with wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
“This is so important, because play isn’t just play, play is also learning,” Beatty explained. “It’s the kids that develop socially and emotionally. The kids are learning turn-taking, they’re learning sharing, they’re learning what we call those soft skills that everyone doesn’t always think about, but are so important when it comes to being an adult.”
The Tatem PTA will focus this year on reinvesting in experiences for its students.