BCBS grant will pay for FCUE's new playground

by Sean Dunlap

Franklin County Upper Elementary School will soon get a new, modern playground — valued at more than $300,000 — thanks to a grant provided through the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation.

Six K-5 schools across the Magnolia State will receive contemporary, inclusive playgrounds — which will each encompass a footprint of 5,380 square feet with 24 pieces of play equipment, safety surfacing and shading systems — through the award.

The playgrounds, which will be built in Franklin, Chickasaw, Newton and Washington counties, will be installed over the summer with formal openings at each site planned for the fall.

“The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is proud to provide spacious school playgrounds where students can engage in active play outside of the classroom,” Eugenia King, who serves as the foundation’s Health and Fitness Coordinator, said.

“These playground structures are designed for physical activities such as climbing, crawling, jumping and running to improve balance, flexibility and cardiovascular health while promoting creativity and building social skills.”

King said studies show creating environments for children to experience unstructured play supports their physical health and increases their chances of succeeding academically in the classroom.

In conjunction with the playground equipment, the foundation will provide teacher education curricula created as a best practice guide for promoting overall fitness and fun through the use of outdoor play environments.

FCUE Principal Sandra Oliver said her school received a grant in 2020 from the foundation to implement a campus vegetable garden, which she believes put her school on the organization’s radar due to the success of that effort.

“In March of this year, we were invited to submit a grant application for a ‘Building Healthy Schools Playground’ and we were approved,” Oliver said.

“Our current playground’s condition is outdated and not safe for student use. Students are not allowed to use the (existing) structure, which limits availability to resources that promote physical activity during break time. Thankfully, our grant application was successful, which will greatly benefit our students for years to come.”

Oliver said with the prevalence of electronics and the amount of screen time students are exposed to on a daily basis, the need for outdoor play has never been greater.

“Recess and free play on a playground are more important than ever,” she continued. “This grant will help us create that necessary environment where children can experience the physical and mental benefits of unstructured play.”

Initially, Oliver said she and school officials had looked at placing the new playground where the old, outdated structure is currently located in a space designated for upper elementary students.

“Then, we decided to locate it next to the lower elementary play structures so all the students (lower and upper elementary) can enjoy and benefit from it,” she added.
Oliver said she is deeply appreciative for what the foundation has done to contribute to FCUE through the years.

“Thanks to the generous contributions awarded through grants, our faculty and staff have been able to provide our students with experiences and opportunities that have improved the quality of student life at our school,” she noted. “We look forward to future opportunities to work with the foundation.”

Franklin County Superintendent of Education Chris Kent said the district shared in Oliver’s excitement to receive the news that her campus had been chosen for the playground grant program.

“‘The Building Healthy Schools Playground’ will improve the quality of student learning, self-esteem and physical activity,” Kent said. “On behalf of our school district, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the foundation for its consideration of Franklin County Upper Elementary School for this grant opportunity.”

King said the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation has a vision for a healthy state and will continue to provide leadership and targeted grant funding for sustainable initiatives and programs to improve the overall health and well-being of all Mississippians.

To learn more about the foundation’s partnerships and efforts, visit www.healthiermississippi.org.