COLUMBIA — The only thing green outside of Lee Elementary School is the slide.
Located off of Locust, the school is surrounded by black and gray asphalt. Behind the school there is a small playground, no grass, just mulch. The small area that 345 students share has basic playground equipment, swings, slides and a jungle gym.
For the past three years the Kiwanis organization has picked a “one day” project that it would participate in on the first Saturday of April. This year, the Kiwanis group's goal was to improve the area outside of Lee Elementary.
Kiwanis is an international organization of volunteers who are dedicated to improving the life of children and their community. On Saturday, the group joined with Lee Elementary and used a $5,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kick-start an extension to Lee in hopes of connecting children with nature.
According to Kiwanis member Elda Kurzejeski, a survey recently showed that a fraction of land directly behind Lee was owned by the school district, and Lee decided that it was the perfect opportunity to enlarge its outside area to include grass.
Kurzejeski was the second woman to join the Booneslick Kiwanis group and has been volunteering through it for 17 years.
“We heard what Lee wanted to do and decided that we would help them,” Kurzejeski said.
With more than 40 volunteers in attendance, the area behind Lee became what seemed like a home improvement project. The chain link fence that divided the asphalt from the grass on the other side was ripped down. A new outdoor theater was added past the former boundary of the fence. Kurzejeski said that they also planned to create an outdoor classroom and a fitness track.
“We moved the rocks and placed them behind an existing theater stage and we also built some more benches that will be painted and added to the existing benches,” Kurzejeski said. “It will be a great place for people to come watch students put on a play or watch the chorus.”
Five volunteers put together a second shed to hold gardening supplies to help students plant seeds where Circle K Kiwanis built additional flowerbeds.
Lee principal Teresa VanDover thinks the extension of the students' play area will aid not only in connecting with nature but also get children outside and more active.
“There is a new term, ‘nature-deficit disorder’ — the idea of kids connecting with nature is falling by the wayside,” VanDover said. “When students get home from school they go to their family room and watch TV. We need to get kids outside.”’
All the changes were planned on being completed Saturday, so that students at Lee will be able to enjoy the improvements this coming week.
“We want to get them outdoors to do activity and get them away from electronics. We want to allow them to learn how to respect and love nature because they are our future conservationists,” said Becky Clearwater, administrative officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “They have to learn to respect the outdoors and love it.”