Field of dreams

Susan
Susan Flanagan
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Something exciting is happening behind St. Paul’s junior high

St. Paul’s Junior High School wants to help its students stay healthy. What they have in mind is no small endeavour.

In fact, what they hope to build is something that this city has not had in many years. It’s a new outdoor multipurpose recreation field surrounded by a four-lane running track, six sprint lanes, a long jump pit and outdoor classroom.

They plan to build this behind

St. Paul’s school on Newfoundland Drive, on land that is overgrown and has become a hangout for some unsavoury activity.

I had no idea about this exciting news until I received an email from Jennifer Stender, co-chairperson of the St. Paul’s Junior High community track and field facility committee.

Paved paradise

“As you know, the ’77 Canada Games track was converted to a parking lot and the city no longer has an outdoor track facility,” Stender wrote. “As a province, we unfortunately rank high in Canada for obese and unfit children and we perform poorly overall at national events like the Canada Games. As well, playgrounds in most neighbourhoods are designed for 2-12 year olds and not the junior high age group.”

That’s the part that caught my attention. What do we have to offer children, especially teenagers, to encourage them to get outside and play? Growing up on Bell’s Turn, we were outside all the time and only came in to eat, do homework and go to bed.

I noticed the slowdown in physical activity in our children as soon as the first four became teenagers. Lucky for us, our daughter swims seven times a week and the three older boys all play hockey; one roller blades; one swims. And they walk to and from school.

But apart from that, the most exercise they usually get is clicking on a computer keyboard or game controller.

I make sure No. 5, who just turned six, gets plenty of fresh air and exercise. He walks to and from school and the palms of his hands are calloused from the monkey bars at Larch Park. He also swims and plays soccer once a week.

But he doesn’t get the same level of outdoor play at school that his siblings got when they were younger and we were living in B.C. He has gym a couple of times in the seven-day cycle. But apart from that, he doesn’t get much outdoor playtime while at school.

The school he attends is an “active school” prescribing to the provincial initiative of Healthy Students Healthy Schools which, according to the website, “aims to create a school environment that supports healthy living for children, youth and the larger school community of Newfoundland and Labrador.” So he does get to move around inside the classroom and in the halls.

But there’s something to be said for fresh air. Students at his school are not permitted to go outside at morning recess even if it is warm and dry. This fact makes me sad, especially for children who have a hard time sitting still. A good dose of fresh air would benefit greatly.

At lunchtime they do get to go out when the weather is nice but, because space is limited, they can only play two days out of seven on the new playground parents fundraised for last year. The other five days they can play on the grass and pavement around the playground. But at least it’s outside.

When we moved to Surrey in 2004, our children were in grades 1, 2, 5 and 6. In the fall, before school started in the morning, they ran laps around the school property collecting a Popsicle stick for each lap. Adults staffed the perimeter. They ran whether the sun was shining or the rain was falling. Eight times out of 10, the rain was falling.

When they got inside, the Popsicle sticks were tallied so they could keep track of how many laps they had run.

They would excitedly report the growing number of laps every day after school. They always went outdoors at recess and lunchtimes, rain or shine.

In Surrey, Nos. 1 through 4 also had several weekly after-school track meets in the fall similar to what the Newfoundland and Labrador Athletics Association (NLAA) puts off in Pippy Park on weekends. And once a year in Surrey, the children participated in a mega track meet where they competed against other schools in the district. For this, we travelled up the road to use a superb outdoor track and field that we didn’t have at our school.

This is much what Stender envisions happening behind St. Paul’s.

Stender, in her role as general practitioner for 22 years, knows only too well the effect the lack of exercise has on people, especially as they grow older. She sees it every day when she’s with patients. She wants her children to grow up healthy, with outdoor play a normal part of their daily lives.

“For someone living in Virginia Park, you’re about 20 km from Pearlgate Track in Mount Pearl,” says Stender, who has two children in high school and one child at

St. Paul’s.

“Hockey costs money. Swimming costs money. Even basketball can be $2,000 a year. What is there for someone who doesn’t have money?” asks Stender.

Certainly no official outdoor place for east-end teenagers to have fun running, jumping and throwing which make up the basis for most sports.

“The nearest fields are Airport Heights and Feildian Grounds,” adds Stender. “So what do junior high school kids do? They hang out in the bushes and do things we don’t want them to do.”

Room for all

Derek Staubitzer, who is Stender’s co-chairperson of the St. Paul’s Junior High community track and field facility committee, explains that the track won’t only benefit St. Paul’s children. Children could be bused in from other schools to hold their sports days there, much like we did in B.C.

“It will be a community-use facility, so all local people, including seniors, will be able to use it. Plus walking a 300-metre track is an easy way to calculate distance,” said Staubitzer when I met him and Stender behind the school. “We sent out flyers to residents all around the area and invited them to a public meeting.” About 20 residents showed up.

“They didn’t want to see the green space buffer destroyed on the periphery, so we modified our plan. We got overwhelming response back saying they supported the new plan.”

Ah yes, the plan. It’s quite a costly endeavour to build a running track and field. Staubitzer estimates the cost at $1 million. And he hopes the field will be built and functioning by late 2014.

Plan it and they will donate

“When we talk to people about this project, they recognize how valuable it is and some literally take out their cheque books and write a cheque on the spot,” explains Staubitzer as he hands over a donated cheque for $100 to his son’s homeroom teacher.

Each homeroom class has been challenged to raise $1,000 however they choose, he explains. It spurs their entrepreneurial spirit and the money they raise will be matched by donors. This effort will bring in $50,000.

The Knights of Columbus,

St. Paul’s Council, have already given $60,000 to pay for Tract Consulting to do the design and engineering work. The plan has been finalized. The Royal Bank, A&W and Direct Energy have all made corporate donations.

As for the big sponsorships — “We’re still in negotiations,” says Staubitzer. “We are offering naming rights and extensive promotional opportunities to our larger corporate sponsors. We want to talk to any organization that would like to be part of this initiative. Local restaurants and retail stores have been very supportive because they realize this project will attract people to the area when events take place and they will directly benefit.”

As well, an Oktoberfest dinner and auction held Nov. 2 raised $26,000 for the project.

“Oktoberfest wasn’t so much about the funds … as it was about informing people and building excitement about the project.  It was also about having fun … which is one of our committee’s goals,” says Staubitzer.

“The track will be a professional rubberized surface over asphalt,” he says.

“We are working with the Newfoundland and Labrador Athletics Association (NLAA) to ensure the facility meets their needs. They were engaged in the technical design.”

George Stanoev, technical director for the NLAA, is excited about the prospect of a track facility in the capital city.

“Having an accessible and affordable neighbourhood facility in the east end of St. John’s will provide greater opportunity for youth and local residents to live a healthier lifestyle,” Stanoev says.

So, folks, if you want to help create an inclusive, safe and inviting environment where our community can learn and play all while enhancing both physical and mental wellness, get on board and donate what you can to this worthy endeavour. It doesn’t have to be cash. Your time, creativity and energy would be much appreciated as well.

For more information, email dstaubitzer@nf.sympatico.ca.

Susan Flanagan is a journalist who strongly believes that outdoor play enhances learning. She can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.

L’Arche feedback:

Sherry Gambin-Walsh writes: “A while ago you wrote an article on L’Arche, an international federation dedicated to the creation and growth of homes, programs and support networks with/for people who have intellectual disabilities. We at NLACL (Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living) believe in the right to live in the community and the right to choice. We do not feel that the L’Arche movement mirrors our mission.  … A significant number of people do not believe that L’Arche is the right model for our sons and daughters. For additional information visit www.nlacl.ca.”

Organizations: Canada Games, Newfoundland and Labrador Athletics Association, Healthy Students Healthy Schools Airport Heights Knights of Columbus Direct Energy Newfoundland and Labrador Association for Community Living

Geographic location: St. Paul, B.C., Surrey Canada Larch Park Newfoundland and Labrador Pippy Park Virginia Park Mount Pearl

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  • MC
    November 19, 2013 - 05:42

    Wow! What a fantastic Story...Amazing project! Keep everyone posted!