For one Philly school, small donation makes a big impact

Students wait their turn to shoot the basketball at their new net at the Juniata Park Academy on Monday. They received a grant to get their very first piece of playground equipment.

Hundreds of people huddled in the Juniata Park Academy schoolyard Monday, eyes fixed on a spot 10 feet above the ground.

The Philadelphia public school had gotten its very first piece of playground equipment ever, and to say the dedication of a single sturdy basketball hoop was a big deal was a vast understatement.

“I want you to know what a privilege it is for this school to have its first piece of recess equipment,” said Jodi Hanauer, the teacher who wrote a grant proposal for $2,696 to secure the hoop. “I officially dedicate this to the students of Juniata Park Academy.”

A cheer went up. This is what passes for a luxury in many city schools, where budgets barely cover basics and most parents can’t write checks to provide bells and whistles.

After Hanauer took the first shot -- sinking it easily -- dozens of students formed a circle to take a try, their classmates clapping and cheering. There was a bright-red ribbon taped to the hoop, and it felt as if it was someone’s birthday.

“There hasn’t been a day when someone hasn’t asked me, ‘When can we start using the basketball hoop?’ ” said Sam Gotlieb, Juniata Park’s principal.

The Juniata Park faculty have come up with a schedule to ensure that each class in the 1,200-student K-8 school -- one of the city’s largest elementaries -- gets time to play.

Second grader Jenncarlos Valentin could hardly wait to get his hands on a basketball to try out the new piece of equipment, paid for with funds donated by ESPN after Hanauer wrote a heartfelt plea for donations on the site Donors Choose. (“The students from our school are well-behaved and love coming to school,” Hanauer wrote. “They are kind to each other and like to help the community as well, as they have participated in canned food drives to help those in their community.”)

Jenncarlos, 8, said the addition would make a big difference at recess. Prior to the hoop, the yard -- bounded by G Street, Hunting Park Avenue, H Street, and Bristol Street -- was nothing but blacktop.

“Before, we had nothing to play with,” he said. “It was boring.”

Hanauer, a 13-year educator who teaches English to speakers of other languages, is a veteran grant writer who is always on the lookout for ways to fill in gaps for her students. In addition to the basketball hoop, she won $500 this year for basic supplies -- crayons, markers, tape -- for Juniata Park’s ESL teachers.

The school is dreaming bigger. Hanauer has already won money for a few more pieces of equipment, but she’d like a full playground, complete with safety mats.

“Our budget is so limited,” Hanauer said. “Things are expensive, and we can’t have everything we want for the kids, so we’re building slowly.”

Jinha Choi, another ESL teacher at Juniata Park, watched as her students waited for a turn at the hoop.

Juniata Park, where more than 80 percent of students live below the poverty line and one in five is an English-language learner, needed this schoolyard boost, Choi said.

“Playing games helps students make connections, especially our ESL students. Friendships can grow,” Choi said. “It is one hoop, but it means so much.”

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