Prince of Wales, Queen Mary families fundraise to replace ageing school playgrounds torn down last year

Parents say the need to rely on fundraising for things like playgrounds creates inequities between schools in wealthy and low-income neighbourhoods.
Heather Holland (left) and Jill Staveley (centre) are parents of children at Queen Mary Public School and Erica Atfield’s (right) children attend Prince of Wales Public School. (Photo: Brett Throop)

When Erica Atfield’s daughter was invited to a birthday party for two friends in her grade one class earlier this month, parents were told not to bring gifts. Instead of presents, the birthday girls wanted something else: donations to help replace their school playground.

Atfield’s daughter attends Prince of Wales Public School, where the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board tore down two ageing playgrounds last summer after they were deemed unsafe. Another nearby elementary school, Queen Mary Public School, also had its playground removed last summer after an inspection report found that it was no longer safe for children to play on.

But the province doesn’t provide funding for new play structures, so instead parents at the two schools have teamed up to raise the money needed to replace them.

“It is extremely daunting,” said Atfield, who also has a son in junior kindergarten at Prince of Wales and sits on its school council, an advisory committee that includes parents and guardians.

It will cost between $100,000 and $200,000 to replace each play structure, Atfield said. Raising that amount will be a significant challenge for the school community because many students’ families are struggling financially, she said.

The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board removed two aging playgrounds at Prince of Wales Public School, on Monaghan Road, in 2022. (Photo: Erica Atfield)

Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that 40 percent of students at Prince of Wales, whose catchment area includes several downtown neighbourhoods, come from families that are considered low income. Statistics Canada defined low income in 2020 as $53,140 before taxes for a family of four.

Fundraising is also a challenge at Queen Mary Public School, where 30 percent of students’ families are considered low income. That’s well above the provincial average of 17.7 percent of households that fall into the low income category.

Jill Staveley has two children, in grades five and eight, at Queen Mary. She said it’s frustrating that it’s left up to volunteers like her to raise money for the new playground.

“I resent the idea that a playground is an extra,” she said. “I think that governments who are funding public systems should be funding the whole system…Having zero funds for a playground, I think, is a problem.”

She said fundraising campaigns can make students feel left out if their parents can’t afford to contribute. Some schools use hot lunch programs as a way to fundraise, but that wouldn’t work at Queen Mary, she said.

“When you look at a school where a significant portion of the students can’t afford to participate in the hot lunch program, instead of being a fundraiser, it becomes like a glaring red light of inequity,” she said. “You just have kids who are left out.”

Atfield said the fundraising challenges faced by Prince of Wales and Queen Mary point to inequalities between schools in wealthy and low-income areas of the city. “There are some schools where… fundraising is just as easy as sending out an email saying, ‘we need money’ and people provide money,” she said. She said the school board should provide funding for things such as playgrounds to level the playing field for schools in low-income neighbourhoods.

School boards don’t receive provincial funding for playgrounds, KPRDSB says

Greg Kidd, executive officer of corporate affairs at the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board, said in an emailed statement that the board recognizes “that funding for playground equipment is a challenge and can be a significant investment for school communities.”

He said that “unfortunately” school boards do not receive provincial funding for new playground equipment.

But the board is required to inspect existing play structures each year to ensure they are safe, he said. “When equipment is deemed unsafe, we have to be sure that it’s not available for student or community use and it is removed,” he said.

He said the board is “always willing” to work with schools and school councils “to explore alternatives to structures, and to support the creation of active, physical spaces that can be used for all students.”

A 2019 report by the group People for Education found that a heavy reliance on fundraising for things such as sports equipment, playgrounds and some classroom supplies is creating inequities for Ontario students.

According to the report, schools in wealthier parts of the province fundraise twice as much on average as schools in poorer areas. And the 10 percent of elementary schools that fundraised the most in 2019 brought in 33 times the amount raised by the bottom 10 percent, the report said.

You can make a donation toward new playgrounds at Queen Mary and Prince of Wales schools through the platform SchoolCash Online by clicking here. After choosing the school you wish to donate to, select “playground” as the initiative.

Cheques or cash donations can also be sent to the individual school offices or the school board office. Cheques should be made payable to KPRDSB, with the school name and “playground” in the memo line. The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board’s mailing address is: 1994 Fisher Drive, Peterborough, ON, K9J 6X6.

Donations to the school board are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.

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