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No Place to Play

The cratered surface of what used to be Quitman County Elementary School's playground looks more like a battlefield than a schoolyard.

At the back of the 4-acre lot lie the twisted metal guts of old swing sets and slides. Bordered by the Mississippi county's public cemetery and a glass- splintered dirt lot used for school parking, it's a depressing image, but one that two determined teachers plan to change.

"It's like looking at old bones," said Emily Williams, a former kindergarten teacher at the 650-student school and a co-founder of the Playground Fund. She and 8th grade teacher Raylene Kaufman established the fund this past July and hope to raise at least $15,000 to buy new playground equipment.

Located in the northwestern region of Mississippi known as the Delta, the school is the second-poorest in the state. Its playground, which fell prey to a lack of money, was closed five years ago after a student was injured on the aging equipment.

Then National Public Radio came to Mississippi to do a report on schools' needs. When the broadcast aired, the school with no playground began receiving concerned e- mails from across the country.

"It was just mentioned as a side note, but people were literally outraged that the school didn't have a playground," Ms. Williams said. "All the teachers had been discussing the playground and hopes of restoring it for some time, but it's not exactly an educational priority in a school that needs so much."

Ms. Williams first came to the school under the Teach For America program, a national corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in needy communities.

"People don't realize just how powerful and tangible a symbol a playground can be," Ms. Williams said.

The fund has received just $600, but Ms. Williams is hoping for a lot more, especially since Viget Labs, an Internet-technologies company in Arlington, Va., created a Web site, www.playgroundfund.

—Marianne Hurst

Vol. 21, Issue 14, Page 3

Published in Print: December 5, 2001, as Take Note

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