Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

April 25, 2014

St. John’s wins yogurt contest, opens new school playground

VALDOSTA — What started as a drive for new playground equipment at  St. John the Evangelist Catholic School became a community event that won a national contest.

The school’s students became involved. Parents joined the competitive spirit. Church members with no children in the school became a backbone of support.

They all raised money, entered serial numbers, filled out cards ...

And ate yogurt. Lots and lots of yogurt.

Cindy Miley is credited with the yogurt idea. In the past, she had tried engaging the school to enter Dannon Yogurt’s national campaign for funding, but the idea didn’t inspire action until the school administration took a long look at its aging playground equipment last fall.

Chris Wilson became St. John’s principal in summer 2012. In making an assessment of the school, Wilson noticed that the wooden playground equipment was 20 years old. He arranged an inspection of the playground and the inspectors said the school needed either new equipment or thousands of dollars in repairs.

Being a private school, St. John’s had no recourse to government funding. If the school wanted new playground equipment, it would have to find a way.

For Wilson, finding the approximately $80,000 needed to purchase and install the equipment became a priority. He sees play time as essential to children’s educational development.

“Many people have wondered why would you spend this kind of money on a playground?” Wilson says. “My belief is the playground is an extension of the classroom.”

Children learn team work, cooperation on the playground. “The playground engages children physically and mentally,” Wilson says. “Kids are problem solving when they are on the playground.”

So, the school turned to Cindy Miley’s idea. Eat Dannon Yogurt, collect codes from the yogurt. One father joked of turning his beer fridge into yogurt storage. Wilson says he’s still finding yogurt in his family refrigerator.

Everyone became involved in the effort. The church ate so much yogurt that Wilson believes area grocery stores are wondering about the yogurt spike then the sudden slump in yogurt sales.   

Those not eating yogurt filled out special cards requesting more codes. These were the women whose children and in some cases grandchildren had already graduated from school but still spent the hours after church completing code cards.

For months, St. John’s ate yogurt and tracked the school’s progress in the national competition. Feeling comfortable with a solid lead at one point, school officials and families briefly worried as another school surged ahead. St. John’s redoubled its efforts.

In the end, St. John’s is one of five U.S. schools to receive $30,000. In addition to the Dannon money, the school held other fundraisers and was blessed with donations. The school found multi-purpose playground equipment made in Georgia.

The equipment was installed on the site of the old playground which was demolished last fall.

So, after nearly a full year of no playground equipment, St. John’s students will return to the school today, in the evening hours after class. There will be a short ceremony honoring the dedication of the St. John’s family, but the ceremony won’t last too long. Because the evening and all of the hard work has been about the children having a place to play.

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