Volunteers build playground at JCC in Niskayuna

Published Monday, September 22, 2014

NISKAYUNA — When a crew of volunteers arrived at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center early Sunday morning, it appeared a tall task to build a learning space by the end of the day.

But by lunchtime the workers had already laid the framework for the Teva Play Outdoor Play Space, which is equipped with tools and gadgets to further learning for children at the center. Teva is a Hebrew word for nature.

Mark Weintraub, executive director of SJCC, said the area will be used as a play space and a classroom for children ages 2 through 7. He added that the project falls under the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, initiative that has recently been popularized in reaction to the STEM initiative in education, which emphasizes the same subjects, minus arts.

“This space will be great for the kids, they will be able to learn about nature while being outside,” Weintraub said.

The center received funding to build the play space through a contest hosted by MVP Health Care. In July, Olympic gold medal-winning soccer player Abby Wambach visited the SJCC to help raise additional money to construct the play space.

Weintraub said this type of learning environment is very common in Israel because of the warm weather there for most of the year. The play space is the first of its kind in the Capital Region.

Two sets of crews split up the construction duties, the first worked from 8 a.m. to noon and the second from 1 to 4 p.m., leaving an hour for a lunch break.

Kathy Levy of Niskayuna, spearheaded the new outdoor play space and classroom at the Niskayuna JCC. Photo by Stacey Lauren-Kennedy/Gazette Photographer

Kathy Levy of Niskayuna, spearheaded the new outdoor play space and classroom at the Niskayuna JCC. Photo by Stacey Lauren-Kennedy/Gazette Photographer

Kathy Ember Levy, who is chair of the Outdoor Task Force and spearheaded the project since last winter, said it is extremely rewarding to be able to finally build the play space.

She said that it will provide the children who attend the center’s programs another opportunity to learn while being outside, something she feels is very important.

“They can learn about nature in a hands-on manner,” she said. “Teachers will be able to show children things they wouldn’t be able to if they were in a traditional classroom setting.”

She said that children will be able to begin using the play area, which was made out of recycled material, as soon as next week.

Andrea Leighton, the early childhood director of the center, said she is looking forward to teaching children about nature in this new outdoor area.

“Seeing everyone put in the time and effort to help the kids that use the center is really amazing,” she said. “This is just a really awesome experience.”

Matt Straight of Niskayuna said he rarely has the opportunity to give back to a community organization. When he was presented with one he jumped at it.

“Any chance I can get to help is really cool,” said Straight, whose daughter uses the center’s after-school program. “This is a really great place and I’m happy to give back some of my time.”

Mark Stephan, whose wife is a teacher at SJCC, arrived mentally prepared to do what he was told and was content with that assignment.

“This is just a chance to help out an organization that does a lot of good,” he said. “I’m just going along with their plan.”

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