Making a Difference: Third-graders turn a problem into a $400,000 solution

Bellbrook — “This was first for me,” News Center 7 anchor James Brown said. “I came across a group of third-graders who saw a problem but wound up ‘Making a Difference.’ "

It started a year ago when Audrey Dean, a third-grader at Bell Creek Intermediate School in Bellbrook, asked me, “what’s sadder than sad?”

Audrey and her classmates were at recess.

Jill Culler is a third-grade teacher at Bell Creek. “The kids came running up to me from right over there and they were like ‘Mrs. Culler, we have a huge problem. We need this fixed.’ "

Classmate Rosie Boles summed it up to me this way: “We realized not a lot of people could play on the playground, people in wheelchairs or with crutches.”

Some of those people she was speaking of were Audrie and her classmates.

Mrs. Culler and her students turned this problem into part of her third-grade curriculum. With a smile, Rosie told me, “we started a project called the playground project” that involved researching and finding a piece of playground equipment every student could enjoy regardless of physical ability.

Through fundraisers they raised about $1,000. The school’s PTO came up with another $4,000.

The equipment’s price tag was $20,000.

The kids came up with a sales pitch and presented it to the Bellbrook Lions Club during its “Shark Tank” competition, where various adults and organizations pitched their own ideas on how to better the community. The Lions Club would pick a winner and donate money.

Mrs. Culler told the kids, “that was a huge ask, like $20,000 is a lot of money guys. I don’t know that we’re going to get it. It can’t hurt to ask.”

Lions Club member Gregg Sparks said there was no saying no to the Bell Creek students.

“This was so easy, the other participants actually observing in line decided not to participate once they saw these kids’ pitch. It was a solid pitch, they knew what they wanted, and we wanted to make it a reality,” Sparks said.

The Lions Club loved the kids’ idea so much, it decided to donate and raise money to buy four new pieces of playground equipment to add to some of the existing equipment.

Quinn and Elaina Stephens described one of the pieces for me.

“There’s this big playground thing. Oh yeah. There are over 100 ways to access on it.”

I asked them, “so, do you know how much money this is going to cost?”

They quickly replied, “probably somewhere around a lot.”

A lot. I told the girls, “$400,000.”

Their eyes grew big. They looked at each other and said, “we’re going to need more fundraisers,” they said, laughing and smiling.

The Lions Club has $200,000 ready to spend and it plans to get the rest from corporate sponsors and private donors. Its members know that is a big ask. But so was the challenge Mrs. Cullers’ students faced when they decided to jump into the Lion Club’s “Shark Tank.”

If the kids can do it, the Lions Club said it can too.

Workers will install the equipment this summer and have everything ready when kids go back to class and recess in August.

If you know someone making a difference, email me at James.Brown@WHIOTV.com or message me on Facebook.

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