Playworks to Partner with American Graduate Day

  1. Updates

Playworks Wisconsin is headed to New York City! Principal Janel Hawkins from Dr. George Washington Carver Math & Science Academy and fifth grader Esther Lopez from Allen-Field Elementary will join Playworks Coach Tom Cramer, also from Allen-Field, on national television on American Graduate Dayon PBS Saturday, September 28.  Our segment will air between 4 – 4:30pm EDT, hosted by ABC’s Rebecca Jarvis. Playworks is featured as a national model of how a safe and healthy recess can encourage elementary school students to engage more in school at an early age. Our team will demonstrate how recess can play a major role in improving school climate and engaging kids to come to school every day.

American Graduate Day is a multi-platform event featuring a live television broadcast, radio playlist with premiere documentaries, and participation from more than 20 national partner organizations, celebrities and athletes to spotlight solutions to the nation’s dropout crisis in which one in four students do not finish high school.

“As part of American Graduate, public television and radio stations are working in their local communities to help people understand the impact of the dropout crisis and create champions from the community to help students stay on the path to a high school diploma,” said Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of CPB. “American Graduate Day will use all of public media’s platforms – on-air, online and in the community – to tell this story and focus on local organizations and community responses that are working through parents, teachers, students, and business and community leaders to make a difference in the lives of these young people.”

Meet our Playworks Wisconsin American Grad Day Representatives:

Coach Esther Lopez, Junior Coach, Allen-Field Elementary School

Esther is passionate about the Playworks Junior Coach program because she loves the excitement students show when she comes to recess to play with them. Before becoming a Junior Coach, Esther was shy, quiet, and reserved in class. Soon after she joined the Junior Coach program, Coach Tom noticed that she was one of his best Junior Coaches — even without much training.

The Junior Coach program has helped Esther gain so much confidence in herself that she now comes outside with a loud coach voice, a huge smile on her face, and a cheer to lead the entire 1st grade recess which consists of 130 kids. “She’s an incredible Junior Coach with a strong work ethic and is the most knowledgeable Junior Coach on my team which makes her a great leader at Allen-Field,” says Coach Tom. When she is not leading 4 Square and Toilet Tag, Esther loves playing her guitar and writing music. She plans to be a gospel singer when she grows up.

Coach Tom Cramer, Playworks Program Coordinator, Allen-Field Elementary

Since graduating high school, Tom has spent all of his summers as a staff member at YMCA Camp Minikani where he has been a counselor, director of the Leadership Training program, and now serves as the Residential Camp Director. He graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in the fall of 2012, on the English Education track. Following graduation, he joined Playworks as an AmeriCorps member, serving more than 1700 hours as a Coach at Allen-Field during last school year. This year, Tom returns to continue delivering amazing programming to Allen-Field Elementary.

Coach Coach Tom considers himself a kid at heart who loves to play games and be goofy. “I was drawn to Playworks for the opportunity to provide children with a positive, inclusive environment where they can be themselves, free from any social pressures they are experiencing. I want to see how children can transform and be themselves when they are provided with a safe, judgement-free environment centered on play,” says Coach Tom. The results on the overall school climate are what excites Tom the most about Playworks because the power of play encourages all staff members and students to let loose and be themselves.

Ms. Janel Hawkins, Playworks Principal, Dr. George Washington Carver Academy of Math and Science

Ms. Hawkin’s understands that collaboration is the best way to accomplish her goals and is working to weave the values from Playworks into the fabric of Dr. George Washington Carver Academy of Math and Science, a school that has been labeled as one of the toughest schools in the Milwaukee Public School system, riddled with bullying, high dropout rate and low test scores.  Ms. Hawkins believes strongly in building a healthy school community and understands thalong with a bonded team of educators, this includes bringing families into the school for positives.  She recognizes that Playworks can be a catalyst for this kind of outreach, and works as a thought partner to make it a reality.

Examples include: school-wide assembly to emphasize Playworks values and student safety, planning of an end-of-year community engagement event, and teacher trainings that emphasize team and incorporate Playworks activities. Ms. Hawkins is persistent and driven; she was transferred to a school with many students under stress that manifests in aggression and violence, teachers feeling divided and defeated, and parents who viewed school as an adversary.

“At the beginning of last year, Carver was like Ground Zero. Today, instead of hitting and punching, you see kids using rock-paper-scissors as a way to solve conflicts at recess. Kids are playing together in constructive ways and even the faculty seems more positive as well,” says Ms. Hawkins. Through it all she has kept her head up and has utilized Playworks as a partner to unify and shift the school climate for the better, never giving-up on her kids or her vision.

“We are thrilled that Wisconsin was selected to represent Playworks nationally in this second annual PBS broadcast,” says Kristina Olkowski, executive director of Playworks Wisconsin. “Every day Janel, Esther and Tom demonstrate the power of play to make the school playground a place where every kid can play safely and be a part of their school community. When there is a place for every kid on the playground to belong, contribute and be part of the game, kids feel more connected and enthusiastic about coming to school.”

We are asking viewers to go to to download tools and resources to help them volunteer on their school playground and create a safe, inclusive and fun place for every kid at recess. The seven-hour special is expected to be picked up by more than 70 percent of the PBS affiliates around country.


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