Speake School is tucked away about 50 miles west of Huntsville, Alabama. Passing farm after farm you see it just off the road past an old country church. On May 3, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with the students, teachers and staff celebrating their Grand Prize win in the Healthy Playground Makeover Sweepstakes sponsored by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), Discovery Education, Sports Authority and Playworld Systems. Speake School won $30,000 in new sporting equipment from Sports Authority and a new playground from Playworld Systems. Leslie Archer, a kindergarten teacher and recent college graduate, just started at Speake in December and cast the winning entry out of nearly 130,000 nation-wide.
While winning a prize valued at nearly $45,000 is certainly exciting and something to celebrate, the celebration was not what impressed me the most. The commitment of the teachers, staff and principal set this school apart. Speake is a Title I school with 54% of students eligible for free lunch and 13% eligible for reduced lunch. Like most schools, it has seen budgets slashed and resources cut, leaving little left for anything other than keeping enough teachers. Creativity is important. They work to stretch every dollar as far as possible while striving to challenge each student, provide unique experiences for academic growth and encourage active, healthy lifestyles. Michelle Owens, the physical education teacher, spoke of saving money by building things herself. Rather than spending a couple hundred dollars on a new ping-pong table, Mrs. Owens got someone to donate a piece of plywood and built her own.
Their commitment comes from a history with the school. Ms. Archer attended Speake and Speake’s principal, Tina Blankenship, is not only a graduate of the school from its days as a K-12, her daughter also graduated from there. It comes as no surprise that when they heard about the Sweepstakes, the whole community got involved. Mrs. Owens printed her own postcards reminding the teachers and parents to enter. Ms. Archer’s aunt even got involved, recruiting people to enter on behalf of the school. Their campaigning paid off – over 80 people from the community entered more than 1,600 times.
Speake School is committed to providing quality nutrition education to students, even without new equipment. Over the last year, they have worked to introduce students to foods they’ve never tried before. They are teaching students about balance, moderation and the importance of being active at least 60 minutes every day. To stress the importance of drinking milk, a local woman from the community brought her cow by the school and the students learned how to milk it.
With a new playground and sporting equipment, students will have a better opportunity to get the exercise they need at school. Their empty sporting goods shelves will fill up and the old, gravel-covered playground will become a safe, exciting space for students to play.
Every morning students repeat Speakes’ motto, “I am somebody at Speake School. I am important. I can make a difference every day.” It’s exciting to see the difference HWCF members are able to make in the lives of these students and we look forward to seeing the impact of these prizes on the Speake community.
Becky Johnson wrote this post for Together Counts on behalf of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.