Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Domata Peko, along with six of his teammates, visited Woodland Elementary in Liberty Township Tuesday to promote being active and good health, as well as to present a check for $10,000 to go towards the school’s mission to build a new playground.
The donation comes way of a grant from the NFL’s Play 60 Super School contest.
“Kids love to get something new. A new playground for a school, that is amazing,” Peko said. “I am just happy to be a part of it. The kids are just so happy. That is what makes me wake up and get up here on my day off. It is for the kids and as long as they are happy, I am happy.”
Raising money for the playground has been a passionate mission for Woodland’s second-year principal Valerie Montgomery.
“We just want this so badly for our students and they want it too,” Montgomery said. “They really deserve it, especially since our students have lost a lot of their special time due to the budget cuts. Right now, they only have gym class 12 times a year.”
After voters have rejected three tax hikes in two years, the Lakota school district was forced to make additional budget reductions last spring. Those reductions included cutbacks to the delivery of art, music and physical education at the elementary level.
According to the district, the budget reduction was projected to save the district $1.5 million. At the same time, it also limited the total time a elementary student has gym this school year to 9.5 hours.
In comparison, elementary students rotated having their special subjects last year and had gym class once every week. This school year, students only have physical education once a week for two six-week periods.
“So we went from having all three once a week to having only one of them and each subject only 12 times a year. It is a huge cut,” Montgomery said. “It is really hard to fathom, but it was what had to happen.
“So, with that, their physical activity that they are having now is happening at recess.”
That lack of physical activity enhances the school’s need to replace its 23-year-old playground. Furthermore, it is also leaves it up to the students to be active when they are out of school.
“Anytime you get to go out as an NFL athlete to help encourage kids to be active and keeping their bodies healthy is important,” Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. “I think it is a great opportunity for us to come out and be a voice.”
Whitworth, along with Peko, Nate Clements, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Leon Hall, Michael Johnson and Terrence Newman were cheered on by the student body at Woodland, as the NFL players answered questions and led them in a series of fitness activities.
The group also signed a number of items at the school, which the school hopes to use to raise more funds for their playground project.
For phase one, the school needs to raise a total of $35,000 in order to break ground sometime this summer. With the $10,000 grant from the NFL, Woodland is still $11,894.11 shy of having enough to pay for the first phase, which includes some equipment and the playground surface.
The second phase, which includes swings and a climber, will nearly cost an additional $24,000.
“We have lots of ideas and are hopeful that we might be able to raise the money,” Montgomery said. “We are also always looking for community partnerships. We just keep hoping that some company or some person would come out of the woodwork like the Bengals did and provide a donation that could put us over the top.”