On the ball

At Valhalla Elementary School, recess wasn’t always this fun. Playground balls were hard to come by and many students just sat on benches instead of taking part in an activity.

That all changed this week.

A new toy shed — stocked with new playground equipment — opened Monday on the Valhalla playground. It’s the only shed of its kind in the district.

A unique feature to the shed is that it is staffed by students during recess — and they actually look forward to doing it.

The student monitors who work in the shed check out a piece of equipment to fellow students, who turn in their self-manager card to be hung in the shed. At the end of recess, students bring back the ball and they receive their self-manager card in return.

“It’s really bringing a change in responsible behavior,” said Tami Gamba, a para-educator and Valhalla Parent Teacher Association president who helped get the shed. “They’re actually learning responsibility and taking responsibility for themselves.”

Students in the second through sixth grade can be monitors.

“It’s fun because you get to work in the shed and pass out balls,” said Jessica Gamba, a second grader who works in the shed one recess a week. “It’s more fun than other days of the week.”

The new equipment has also increased student activity during recess. Prior to the toy shed, each classroom of about 28 students only had three balls to play with. Many students would simply sit on benches during recess. Now, the students are excited to play.

“The turnaround is amazing of the kids who are actually playing now,” Gamba said. “The kids have the opportunity to come out there and get something different.”

The new toys include hula hoops, jump ropes, fox tails, 24 new basketballs, 24 new soccer balls and eight whistling vortex footballs.

The total project cost $3,500, which was paid for by PTA fundraisers.

Gamba came up with the idea last year, then did all the background work on what kind of shed to get and where to put it. She also ordered all the equipment to put inside it and signed up students to work at the shed.

“It’s been tough, but it’s been wonderful,” Gamba said. “The kids love it. It’s definitely teaching responsibility for all the kids. Anyone who wasn’t a self manger before wants to be one now. It’s turned into a major incentive program.”

Some teachers were worried the students wouldn’t be responsible enough to take control of their own toys.

“I said, ‘With that attitude, it won’t work,’” Gamba said. “Enough of us with a positive attitude and excited kids that we’re going to make it work. All the staff has been very supportive. It couldn’t have been done without the volunteer support.”

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