Imaginations at play

More than 200 volunteers came to Berman Hebrew Academy on March 19 to build the school’s new playground. Photo courtesy of Berman Hebrew Academy

Some 200 students, parents, teachers and others came to the Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville on Sunday to build the school’s new playground, which the students helped plan.

Installing the new monkey bars, rock-climbing wall and slides was the final step in a six-month course for students in second through fifth grade, who came up with their own designs for the playground.

Fourth-grader Tali Vogel is enthusiastic about the new playground because it has been so hands on.

“It’s been really cool because you can design your own playground instead of having just the teachers design it, and then being like, ‘Oh, that’s our playground,’” she said.

Teacher Rachael Gargulinski said students began by looking at images of playground equipment to design their own. They used toilet paper roll inserts, straws, tongue depressors and aluminum foil to build the models.

Last week, the models lined the shelves in the school media center. One model used wooden sticks and blue pipe cleaners to make a model of a pyramid that students could climb.

Students aimed for the skies when coming up with ideas for playground equipment. Photo by Dan Schere

“A lot of them had to go back to their designs and redo them because they saw that they didn’t work,” she said, noting that students used Legos to build models with the levers, pulleys and inclined planes that they had studied. “So then they improved their designs, got new materials and then redid them to make these models.”

In getting serious about play, the students applied the science they learned in class and they let their imaginations guide them.

One student suggested adding an airplane to the playground, Gargulinski said.

Many student ideas surfaced in the final playground, although not exactly as first envisioned.

Third-grader Nitzahn Epstein proposed a slide that made music when a person uses it.

“I play a lot of different music,” she said. “I play piano, so I always think of music. So I thought of different music notes as you’re going down.”

Berman Hebrew Academy students made models of the playgrounds they designed. Photo by Dan Schere.

Although the slide that was erected on Sunday doesn’t play music, the playground does feature a drum set. There’s a tube that lets children at opposite ends of the playground talk to each other by speaking into each end.

The school purchased the equipment with $100,000 in state funds and a $25,000 matching grant from The Mayberg Foundation. (Foundation trustees Louis and Manette Mayberg are members of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.)

Students also raised $2,500 through a program called “Pennies for Playground.”

“We had second-grade students sorting and counting the money,” said Lower School Principal Rachel Handloff.

KaBoom, a nonprofit that assists in building playgrounds nationally, provided construction expertise.

Handloff recalled how the school involved the students in planning their own playground that would replace the aging one.

“We said, ‘OK, we want to build a playground. How do we do that?’” she said. “We incorporated all kinds of science lessons. And we did some measurement to see how much space we had and how to measure for the wood and the different projects we’re building.”

Gargulinski shares the excitement. “It’s exciting and it’s also rewarding,” she said. “They own this playground.”

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