BYFIELD — Community service is a big part of the curriculum at The Governor’s Academy. In fact, the school motto is “ Non sibi sed allis — not for self, but for others.”
In keeping with this motto, all of the graduating seniors spend the last couple days of each school year volunteering throughout the community.
This year, that consists of about 100 students split into six groups performing a variety of tasks, including one group of 28 students who spent Thursday’s summery weather working outdoors at Newbury Elementary School, helping the school prepare for a $150,000 outdoor renovation project scheduled to begin in earnest in October.
A subcommittee of the PTA called Growing Real Opportunities for Wonder in the Schoolyard (GROWS) proposed the project when it became clear that repairing the 18-year-old structure currently available for NES students to play on was no longer cost-efficient and could become a safety concern.
With a recent donation from a local family, the school was able to add a swingset and do some minor repairs, but GROWS members, with help from playground experts, have a much bigger vision for this school’s outdoor space.
“It seems like a lot of money, but once you think about (all the work) that’s being done, it’s not just a playground, it’s so much more,” said Sally Miliken, chair of the NES GROWS committee. The committee is looking to raise $68,000 for the project by the middle of July, as more than half of the money needed has already been raised.
Fundraising for the project has come from a variety of sources, including the students themselves, with a Daisy troop donating all of their cookie sale money and a third-grader who asked his birthday party guests to donate to the project in lieu of birthday presents.
The playground plan will address the entire space behind the school, including a new play structure the students voted to be shaped like a ship that will contain a variety of physical challenges. The new swings will remain, a stage will be added for dramatic play and trees will be planted to offer some shade.
In an area abutting the wetlands, an exercise trail has been planned with help from a crossfit expert and a physical therapist to ensure that it is enjoyable for both children and adults.
Chairing the playground project is Eileen Wallwork, who said, “We want the kids outside more for learning and play. Not every kid wants to play on the structure. Not every kid wants to play wallball.”
Wallwork hopes to create an environment that offers busy students a much larger variety of activities but also that encourages other members of the community to use the space when school is not in session, inviting families to play games or walk the trails on a nice evening or summer day.
On Thursday morning behind the school, the rain garden that had previously been established to slow and filter the parking lot runoff was overgrown on one side and had been reduced to a trampled gray slab on the other. Empty brown vegetable gardens and patchy grass filled the area that will eventually be a space where people can play games and sit in the shade.
Here, the teens made an assembly line that carried dozens of pavers to one of the two Governor’s Academy buses, which carried the stones up the hill to the new garden location, where the process was repeated in reverse. Wallwork is anxious to get them planted before the season is missed and hopes to have families adopt the vegetable beds for the summer.
“They’ve been working really hard,” said Miliken, and certainly, the teens were sweaty and dirty from their efforts; but it was clear from their laughter and easy banter that they were all enjoying themselves, in spite of the hard work.
Miriam (Mitsy) Wiggin of North Hampton, N.H., was one of the students who worked primarily in the rain garden. Weeding, turning the trampled soil, planting new plants, Wiggin said that she has a lot of experience with gardening because it is offered as an afterschool activity at The Governor’s Academy. She really likes to make things look nice, she said, even picking up trash from the side of the road when she is on a walk because it bothers her so much to see it there.
For her, the sense of satisfaction that she gets from volunteering is about putting action to words. She said, “You get to see how you can impact others. People always talk about, ‘Oh, you’re going to make a great difference in the world,’ and that’s kind of a lot of pressure. When you volunteer, you actually get to see some of that change, so it takes some of the pressure off.”
Brushing dirt from his hands, Samm Corbett of Beverley said, “Governor’s is all about giving back to the community ... the school really focuses on community service.” He explained that every student is expected to complete 100 hours of community service as part of their education there.
Some of the community service is built into the curriculum. For example, the school hosts The Special Olympics soccer tournament every fall and the students are very involved in organizing the event. Some of the volunteering is self-directed.
In order to fill his community service requirement, Corbett drew upon his skills as a snowboarder and “got involved in an adaptive ski program that helps mentally and physically disabled people learn how to ski,” he said.
The seniors have completed their coursework for the year and graduated yesterday.
Their volunteer work continued on Friday, but the group at Newbury Elementary School was working inside the classrooms instead.
Nearly all of the work for the playground project will be done by volunteers, said Wallwork. The committee will be looking for donations of tools and equipment as well as time and money, so there are many ways that members of the community can get involved. A huge yard sale and a golf tournament are among the upcoming fundraisers.
With the July deadline looming near, Wallwork said that she is a little worried about raising the rest of the money, but the school has a plan to scale back a little if need be.
As with any challenge, as Corbett said, “Just stick to it, work together and you can get it done.”
The full plan and all of the information needed to donate can be found at www.nesgrows.com.