For most of her past 36 years teaching at St. Edmund Parish School, pre-kindergarten teacher Kakie Conroy-Lovaas would stare at the roof outside her classroom windows during recess and imagine how the vacant space could be used by a school desperately in need of more open space.
“I would look at that rooftop everyday," she said. "I looked out and thought of all the things it could be.”
Those hopes were transformed and realized when fellow pre-kindergarten teacher Andrea de Avila suggested turning the roof into a combined playground and garden, then applied for funding. The idea was so good that it recently won the Scholastic “Clifford Be Big in Your Community” contest with a $25,000 prize, sponsored by America Family Insurance. With the funding in hand, the winning idea may become a reality before the end of this school year.
On Tuesday, the popular children’s book character Clifford the Big Red Dog and Scholastic representatives arrived to present the award check to St. Edmund staff and students. Students were also presented with some of Clifford books.
St. Edmund students have been restricted to a small asphalt courtyard for their outdoor time. But when the transformation is complete, they'll have a green fenced-in roof that will serve educational and recreational needs. The roof is located directly outside the pre-kindergarten classrooms, which serves students mostly aged 3-4. Other students at St. Edmund, which has classes through 8th grade for a total student population of 150, can use the garden for science and eco-friendly studies.
Daisy Kline, president of marketing and brand management for Scholastic, said St. Edmunds beat out more than 1,000 national entries for the grand prize. The criteria for choosing the winning entry included feasibility, creativity, sustainability and educational impact.
“The judges were really taken by Andrea’s vision,” she said.
Along with de Avila and Conroy-Lovaas, assistant pre-kindergarten teachers Doris Loong and Jennie Izaguirre were also honored at the event for their contributions towards winning the grant. In writing the application, de Avila pointed to the lack of outdoor space at the school.
“As it stands, our school … has neither a playground nor even a grassy area that allows for safe outside play and learning,” she wrote.
"With this idea, we will be able to create an eco-friendly space that betters our school community as well as teaches our students the importance of caring for our Earth and making a difference."
About half the renovated roof space will be for gardens, and the other half will be for a playground. The roof is located about eight feet off the ground and measures about 90 feet by 15 feet of space, said de Avila.
“My team and I are so proud,” she told students at the ceremony.