Christian Rodriguez/Contributor

In an age when elementary schools across the U.S. are cutting back on or completely eliminating recess for students, faculty and staff at Komarek School still believe in the importance of outdoor fun and learning through play.

However, while students may have a dedicated 25 minutes of outside time during the school day, two Komarek moms noticed the students’ space to stretch out has never been particularly colorful or engaging.

“Since the beginning of last year, I had walked out to the school, meeting with the landscaper just because the exterior of the building looked like it needed some really good tender loving care,” Lisa Mondane, a North Riverside resident and mother of a first-grader, said.

Another parent, Christian Rodriguez, was also disappointed the outside did not appear to be kid-friendly.

“They didn’t have any type of area to play — just a blacktop,” the Broadview mother of a first-grader and preschooler said. “[Students] were usually just running around and playing tag [and] that’s the only thing they did.”

So, in an effort to jazz up the playground space outside the school, the parents joined forces and provided ideas on how to improve the existing space in a simple, low-cost way with the administration and school board.

Last November, Mondane created a short presentation for the superintendent, principal and school board, where she suggested painting designs on the blacktop, creating designated spaces for playground equipment and exploring a volunteer grounds beautification committee.

At the meeting, District members agreed with Mondane and Rodriguez, saying once already-scheduled blacktop resurfacing was completed in the spring, the parents were free to work alongside the school to make grounds improvements.

“The parent community is incredible at Komarek,” Superintendent Brian Ganan said about Mondane and Rodriguez’s initiative. “They were very supportive of our need to give kids something to do at recess. There’s no park, there’s no playground.”

Mondane was excited the school was on board with their vision.

“I thought, ‘What a perfect opportunity, a perfect time, to reintroduce the kids to a new school year having some really fun, bright, colorful playscapes for them to play on at recess,'” she said.  

Earlier this summer, Mondane contacted local businesses to see if any would be interested in providing donated or discounted supplies to start on a painting project for the blacktop. 

After presenting pictures of the blacktop to manager Travis Schwartz at Sherwin-Williams in Westchester, the store agreed to donate paint and brushes to Komarek. 

And, to help with outdoor landscaping efforts, managers Regina Loury and Tim Lucas at The Home Depot in Broadview agreed to donate 20 bags of mulch to beautify the areas around the outdoor trees.

 Then, on Aug. 7-8, Mondane and Rodriguez were joined by a group of 20 parents and faculty to paint hopscotch, alphabet, animal and other activity patterns on the blacktop outside the school’s east and west buildings. On Aug. 11, Mondane returned to the school to spray paint bike racks to match with the colors on the playground.

Additionally, some parents have also volunteered to donate basic recess equipment like balls, jump ropes and other toys to complete the idea of making recess and student outdoor time more fun.

Ganan said he was happy to see the parents come up with a unique idea and come together to make it happen on a budget.

“It’s been cool [and] the project cost us very little,” he said.

Rodriguez is pleased with the results and is sure the revitalization of the space will enhance the students’ days in many ways.

“School play time is vital for our kids [and] the playground will contribute to our children’s physical activity,” Rodriguez said. “With the new stencils painted, we believe that the injuries will decrease and of course, will give our kids a new experience of engagement in game activities. Also, I’m pretty sure that will impact our children’s learning and development.”

Mondane added, “I wanted to make the outside of the school match the greatness of the inside.”