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Remember that Big Lots contest I wrote about back in June? The one that Fairfax entered in the hopes of winning big (or even little) money for a new piece of adaptive playground equipment that all our students could use together, regardless of physical ability? Well, it was the longest and most tedious contest ever, lasting an excruciating five weeks. I got so damn good at typing captchas from every device in our home that I even dreamed about them.

The contest did have an awful lot of potential prizes, ranging from the grand prize of $20,000 to thirty smaller $2,000 prizes. We were cautiously optimistic about at least winning something, although we knew we had several factors working against us. For one thing, we were competing against middle and high schools where every student likely owns their own device and could have voted independently of their parents. We also were competing against some schools that remained in session for the first week or two (or even three) of the contest, making it much easier for staff to remind students and families to continue voting, while ours were in full vacation mode.  And lastly, we do exist in a community that tends to be rather polarized around school issues. Many of our residents opt for private and parochial school and, even for those public school families, we can sometimes feel divided among the seven elementary schools in our district. This is not some old-fashioned town where if you post a reminder on the town square marque to vote for your local school, every single resident is going to rush home to their device and happily begin typing.

But we were indeed optimistic, if for no other reason than that we have the best damn PTA ever. And our optimism was well warranted because we won. As in, WE WON THE WHOLE DANG THING. We had the absolute top number of votes of any of the 186 schools across the country that entered and we won a whooping $20,000! I was moved to tears when I got the call from our PTA president two weeks ago. This brings us about halfway toward our goal and will hopefully allow us to capitalize on some momentum and raise the rest of the money to install the piece by spring. Big Lots will make their public announcement this Monday and will hold a celebratory ceremony where they hand over one of those enormous checks to which everyone is invited, especially Fairfax students and their families. The event, complete with food, music, giveaways and lots of media attention, will be held on Wednesday, August 14 at 9:30 am at the Big Lots at 24295 Chagrin Blvd in Beachwood.

Thank you so much to everyone and anyone who voted. Even if you only remembered to log on and vote after being harassed on Facebook or even if those captchas drove you crazy, it was all worth it in the end. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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You are going to be hearing a lot from me in the next few weeks. Fairfax Elementary School has entered the Big Lots Lots2Give video competition in the hopes of winning $20,000 for an adaptive play structure that can be used by our special education students and our regular education students side by side. Unfortunately, the quality of our video and the conviction of our plea are not worth much as this is simply a popularity contest. So I need you to VOTE VOTE VOTE.

Every single day between now and July 7, you can vote up to three times each day from every single device you own. Desktops, laptops, smartphones, iPads and iPods, tablets, anything you own that connects to the Internet can earn us three votes. Just follow this link http://www.biglots.com/lots2give/vote/link?videoId=2c9461ed3ef0cbad013ef168adfa0003, watch the video (or not, but it’s nicely done and Braedan is in a light blue shirt playing the recorder around the 15th second), and enter the captcha code to vote.  And then do it all again on your next device. And then do it all again the next day. And then share it with everyone you know. Over and over and over.

As a sort of funny aside, I was asked to write the “500-word essay” to accompany our school’s entry, which I’ve copied below. Unfortunately, when we went to submit it, we discovered that the fine print actually said a 500-CHARACTER essay.  Including spaces. Hmmm. Well now, that calls for a slightly different tone. So we quickly edited, with vast swipes of the delete button and you can see the results by following this link . . . three times a day, from every device you own, over and over and over again. You get the picture.

And thank you.

Learn Together, Play Together

Fairfax Elementary School in Cleveland Heights prides itself on serving all kinds of students. We educate, nurture and inspire children from a broad range of backgrounds, across many races, religions and socio-economic classes. These children work and play side-by-side, learning, reading, singing and growing as equals and peers.

Our building is also home to students with a wide range of physical and developmental delays and disabilities, including cerebral palsy, lack of mobility, and coordination and balance issues.

Our building staff works hard to ensure that able-bodied and disabled students have authentic opportunities to interact during classtime when appropriate, in their non-academic specials, such as music and art, as well as during lunch and in extra-curricular activities. All our children learn and benefit from such meaningful integration with one another. There is great beauty in watching a student confined to a wheelchair clapping alongside her classmates as they perform in their spring musical concert. Or in watching the able-bodied students in the after-school tumbling class break into spontaneous applause when their developmentally delayed peer executes a less than perfect somersault.

But there is one place in our building where these groups of students cannot safely interact and that is on our school playground. With modifications and assistance, some of our exceptional students are able to use the traditional playground equipment we currently have but it would be neither safe nor practical for them to use it simultaneously with the rest of the school population. This forced segregation renders that most-beloved time of the school day – recess—as a separate and unequal activity.

The Fairfax School PTA has worked in conjunction with the special education teachers and a team of dedicated fifth graders to identify new playground equipment specifically designed for integrated use by able-bodied and disabled students. Installing such equipment would dramatically alter the course of every day for our exceptional students: they would suddenly be welcome to share in the joy of recess with their peers, laughing, spinning, climbing and sliding side-by-side. They would experience the pride and dignity of being able to use their own playground with minimal assistance from aides, enjoying the same feelings of mastery and independence that their fellow students enjoy.

Furthermore, because our playground sits along a heavily traveled road, a new handicapped-accessible playground would publicly and visibly proclaim our school’s commitment to inclusion. And as a vibrant neighborhood gathering space during non-school hours, the new equipment could be available to any in the community who should need it.

We believe that every student at Fairfax School should have equal access to all of the building’s amenities, no matter what kind of body they were born with. The joy of play should be universal. But we simply cannot afford to do this on our own. Big Lots Lots2Give program can help.

Please vote.

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