North Vernon school wins competition for playground equipment



North Vernon Elementary School has won $73,000 for a new playground, which will replace equipment that is more than 40 years old.

It and hundreds of other schools across the nation applied for a grant and competed in a national competition for new playground equipment. The grant was sponsored by Culturelle Kids, which partnered with KaBOOM for the playground project.

The Jennings County elementary school was one of five schools chosen by a committee as finalists for the cash award.

The other finalists in the competition were:

  • Abraham Wing School in Glen Falls, New York
  • New Haven Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri
  • Perkins Elementary School in Newark, New York
  • Waupaca Learning Center in Waupaca, Wisconsin

“We are over the moon,” said North Vernon Elementary Principal Nicole Johnson, who was officially notified of the school’s victory March 20.

The contest between the five finalists opened for public voting Feb. 15 and ended March 15.

“You should have heard the kids when they heard the announcement that we had won,” Johnson said. “Every single classroom was just so excited. The kids are all smiles, and they are walking around acting very proud. We didn’t just win a playground. We won a very heartwarming sense of gratitude for all the support our community gave us.”

North Vernon Elementary School, which led from the beginning of voting, received 49,385 votes. The other vote totals were:

  • New Haven Elementary, 44,467
  • Perkins Elementary School, 14,608
  • Waupaca Learning Center, 11,060
  • Abraham Wing School, 6,228

“One of the schools tried several initiatives to take away our lead,” Johnson said. “Last week, it didn’t look good. I thought we were cooked, but then our community got behind us, and we won by 5,000 votes.”

North Vernon Elementary physical education teacher Karen Villa initially entered the school in the competition for new playground equipment, Johnson said.

Because the school’s playground equipment has not been replaced since 1972, efforts to replace the equipment were already underway when Villa saw the announcement of the grant.

Prior to the competition for the grant, a plan for $100,000 of renovations to the playground had been approved.

The North Vernon Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, staff members and members of the community had already raised $20,000 for the project when the national competition for funding was announced.

Though $75,000 was initially announced as the amount of the grant, the official amount the school will actually receive will be $73,000.

“That amount will almost make our goal of $100,000 for the project, and we hope to have our new playground by the opening of the next school year,” Johnson said.

“We could not have won this without our community,” she said. “Our parents voted and the got their friends and families to vote. We had people voting for us in faraway states. Members of the PTO contacted our local businesses and organized a real get-out-the vote campaign. The library led their own campaign. They did this to support our kids.”

In addition to serving the 700 students at North Vernon Elementary School, new playground equipment also will benefit the extended community because the school is located near recreational areas open to the community.

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