wo young siblings recently had a unique opportunity to help their school plan for the expansion of its playground.

Emerson Elementary School in Seymour is spending around $23,000 to purchase three pieces of equipment and portable soccer goals to be installed on the school grounds this summer.

First-grader Gavan Lampkin and third-grader Malaine Lampkin came up with ideas for what they wanted to see added to the playground.

“At first, we were thinking about in-ground trampolines,” Malaine said.

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But that option presented the risk of kids getting hurt and was too much of a liability issue for the school, Principal Julie Kelly said.

Malaine also suggested soccer goals because the same year her mom signed her up to play soccer, she broke her elbow and didn’t get to play. Now that she has healed, she would like to be able to play soccer outside at school with her friends, she said.

Gavan and Malaine both said they wanted a huge teeter-totter that can hold several kids on it at the same time.

“They had some really good ideas for things to make our playground better,” Kelly said. “They wanted the teeter-totter for sure, something that was spinny and the soccer goals.”

The school’s existing playground, which includes several jungle-gym pieces, slides, a climbing wall, a rope net and a swinging bridge, will remain, and the new equipment will be added around it.

“We added on some pieces about four or five years ago, and they are still in good shape and get a lot of use,” Kelly said. “The new equipment won’t take up a lot of room and will really enhance what’s already there.”

Emerson’s playground serves as a neighborhood playground after school and on weekends, Kelly added.

“There’s always kids out there playing whenever you go past,” she said. “We had talked about maybe buying books for the school but decided the playground would be something all kids could enjoy, and it would be long-lasting.”

Kelly said she wanted to see equipment that children ages 5 to 12 could play on and that multiple kids could use at the same time so that there wouldn’t be lines of kids waiting to get on.

After submitting the Lampkins’ ideas with some notes of her own to three playground equipment manufacturers, Kelly then took the companies’ proposed designs before all of the students to let them vote on which one they wanted the most.

“It just seemed like the right way to do it because the kids are the ones who will be playing on it every day,” she said. “I went into all the classrooms, and we talked about all three designs so they knew what they would get with each option.”

She then posted the designs in the hallway so students could look at them during the day.

On April 3, they voted and chose the Playworld Midstates design, which includes a unity teeter tunnel, a spinami and a vaquero. Portable soccer goals also are a part of the project.

“It had really awesome stuff,” Malaine said of the proposal.

The bulk of the playground equipment’s expense is being paid for by a $20,000 sweepstakes prize won by Gavan and Malaine’s grandmother, Donna Lampkin of Seymour, through the national Box Tops for Education program. The rest is coming from Emerson’s capital projects fund.

Donna Lampkin entered the online contest last fall.

“We were shocked by it,” Kelly said of the money. “We waited for the check to come in; and sure enough, it did. It was very exciting.”

Box Tops for Education is a longstanding fundraiser for Emerson and many other area schools. But Kelly said she isn’t aware of any local school winning so much money at one time.

The program involves cutting the Box Top labels off everyday products, such as Hanes apparel, Betty Crocker baking products, General Mills cereals, Hamburger Helper and some frozen food, snacks and juice.

Box tops can be taken to participating schools, which send them in. Each box top is worth 10 cents.

On average, Kelly said, Emerson’s parent-teacher organization receives around $1,000 a year from the program.

“We think that’s pretty amazing because it’s just from trash,” she said. “But $20,000 is just incredible.”

That usual box-top money is spent by the PTO to bring in special convocations for the students and to buy T-shirts at the end of the year for the annual field day event.

Donna Lampkin said she collects the labels regularly for the school but never dreamed she would win the contest. She entered to help her grandchildren, she said.

“I’m happy and excited that she did this for us,” Gavan said.

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For a list of products accepted by the Box Tops For Education program, visit


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