Thanks to a grant from Chicago’s mayor and aldermen, Spencer Technology Academy’s playground recently received some much-needed refreshment. With the help of CSX and Action for Healthy Kids, it now has some personality.
Employees from CSX and Action for Healthy Kids joined community and school volunteers Sept. 20 to add vibrancy to the playground and lunchroom. Colorful stencils depicting healthy food and promoting physical activity were added to the bare, black pavement. Large aluminum letters, spelling “Spencer Seahawks,” were painted and hung on the fence around the playground.
Raijon Lamar, fifth-grade teacher and graffiti artist, muraled every nook and cranny of the lunchroom with dancing vegetables and children playing. Volunteers filled in the life-sized, paint-by-number and My Plate Banners, which depict healthy food portions, were hung in a smaller lunchroom.
“Our tag line is ‘How tomorrow moves,’ and there is not a better way to put that into practice than taking the opportunity to support an event to get kids moving and healthy,” said Tori Kaplan, CSX assistant vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility. “It’s important to us to support our tomorrow, which are our children.”
In addition to the revitalization projects, neighborhood families were invited to join the volunteers for healthy food taste tests and exercise opportunities, including a dance class and yoga.
“We live in a food desert,” said Sara Kieszkowski, third-grade teacher and wellness champion at Spencer Technology Academy. “For breakfast, kids drink soft drinks, sugary canned teas and eat junk food. We’re hoping if we expose our students to fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy options like yogurt, then they will see them when they are grocery shopping and maybe choose them.”
Spencer Technology Academy, 214 N. Lavergne Ave., is located in the Austin neighborhood — one of Chicago’s largest and deadliest. It is also the poorest neighborhood and all students eat free or reduced lunches. The school educates nearly 800 pre-K through eighth-grade students in a neighborhood with some of the lowest education rates.
“Our school serves as a neighborhood hub for activity,” said Tracie Sanlin, Spencer Technology Academy’s first-year principal. “Parks in the neighborhood have people or activities in them our parents don’t want to expose their children too so they come here.”
Even after school hours, Sanlin said, parents can be found walking the track, and children use the playground, basketball, football and tennis facilities.
“The tradition of Spencer is to move students beyond the immediate,” she said. “We’ve always believed the neighborhood doesn’t predict their future. We can change our students’ outcome simply by infusing our students with all we do here. I strongly believe students that look like me and come from schools and neighborhoods my family grew up and taught in, deserve high-quality leadership and education.”
Sanlin, a third-generation Chicago Public Schools educator, said such events not only encourage children to make healthier choices, but show them a whole new side of humanity.
“When complete strangers show up and do something this incredible for people they don’t even know, it makes the children realize just how special and important they are,” she said. “We are excited and extremely thankful.”
Rob Bisceglie, CEO of Action for Healthy Kids, was impressed by CSX and its volunteers.
“I have worked in non-profit for 20 years, it’s been my entire career, and I have never worked with a partner as good as CSX,” he said. “Not only do they sponsor school physical activity grants so we can work with schools to improve activities they also bring volunteers to us. CSX is the full package and help us pursue our mission.”