Creating a natural playscape goal for new playground at Riverton Elementary

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PORTLAND —In order to enjoy recess, the youngest students at Riverton Elementary School have to take a long walk to a playground that’s not really designed for them.

To help raise the $50,000 needed for a new playground, a GoFundMe page has been set up and the school is also hosting an art gala and silent auction, 5:30-7 p.m., on Friday, May 12.

Communal works of art created by each classroom will be auctioned off, along with specialty baskets and gift certificates to local restaurants. This “red carpet” event also includes a bake sale.

Jennifer Seed, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Riverton who has taken the lead on the playground project, said staff and the school’s parent-teacher organization have joined together to create a space “that will foster children’s imaginations and lead to active play.”

The goal is to create a natural playscape that would be the first thing visitors to the Riverton Community Center would see.

“It will be a welcoming play area with benches and gardens for all members of the community,” Seed said.

Another crucial aspect of the new playground, she added, is making it accessible for students with wheelchairs.

“These students will (now) be able to explore in a way they never have before. They will be part of the play with their peers instead of just watching,” Seed said.

The current playground at Riverton Elementary serves all 450 students at the school, but when it was built 12 years ago, it was designed for older children who are 7 to 12 years old.

“Our current play structure is not designed for young kids and is so far away, so we want something closer and more developmentally appropriate,” Seed said.

The new playground would be specifically designed for students from pre-kindergarten through first grade and would be built on the hill in front of the school.

In creating the playground and deciding on the elements to include, the school is receiving assistance from Sashie Milner, who has designed several natural playscapes around other Portland schools.

Natural elements would include a river of sand, with a boat and bridge, a stump climbing hill, an observation deck and a willow grove that would be bent into arches to create shaded pathways, Seed said.

“If you walk around Riverton, you will see the children love digging. This will give them a place to do that.”

As it stands, the younger students at Riverton spend “about 10 minutes of the day just walking back and forth to the playground for recess,” Seed said. “(But), this new playground would be just outside the doors of the pre-K” classrooms.

In terms of going natural, Seed said, “We want a playground that is different than our other playground. Natural playscapes lend themselves to more creative play (and) they often have lower maintenance costs.”

In addition to serving students, the new playground would be open to users of the Riverton Community Center, branch library, recreation fields, and community gardens.

“This building is used for about 15 hours a day, seven days a week,” Seed said. “We need something more for the families of younger children to use.”

She said the playground committee, which includes kindergarten teacher Jessica Kalloch and art teacher Chad Hart, were discussing fundraisers when Hart suggested some type of art show.

The idea grew into “having each classroom create a canvas piece of artwork that we could sell,” Seed said. “We also decided to add a silent auction to increase the fundraising, and the PTO is being supportive and hosting a bake sale to help us raise even more money.”

“We wanted something to celebrate our amazing students” and also have them involved in raising money for the new playground, she said.

The themed communal artworks are being created by grade level. Some students are making concentric circle art, some are doing pop art and some grades are doing a tree of life design, Seed said.

“We invite the public to come and enjoy our red carpet gala,” she said. “We love to celebrate our students and how great Riverton is.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

A rendering of what the new natural playscape at Riverton Elementary School in Portland could include.

Cupcake pop art will be just one of the pieces available for auction at Riverton Elementary School’s art gala and silent auction Friday.