Watkins Elementary (Jackson) and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation

Duration of partnerships: 40+ years
100+ volunteers
Impacts 403 students

The Watkins Playground project has won multiple partnership awards, culminating this year with an Award of Distinction for the most recent project phases.  In addition to expanding the playground, the project has also enhanced the school’s physical education program and helped revitalize the entire academic program and culture of Watkins Elementary.
Watkins Elementary is an urban school located in Jackson, Miss. The community is comprised of three subsidized housing complexes and single-family homes throughout the community. The major ethnicity group is African American.  A part of the Jackson Public School District, Watkins serves a student population of over 400 children. Of that, approximately 96% of the children are on the Free/Reduced Lunch Program.
The success of the Watkins Playground Project (Phase I - 2009, Phase II – 2010) not only served as a catalyst for further expansion of the playground and further development of our physical education program, but provided the opportunity to revitalize the entire academic program and culture of the school. While generally ranked as “Successful” by the state, Watkins success was hindered by low parental involvement and low areas of achievement in Reading, Language, Mathematics and Science – until we made a conscious effort to reach out to the community to help us build a new playground.   We began to see signs of an increase in academic achievement!
The community partnerships, team work within and throughout the school, time and effort spent, and the money donated gave Watkins a sense of pride and accomplishment. The pride spread to include all the accomplishments of the school.
Teachers felt included and valued. Students developed a sense of pride since they are a part of the project.  Our students learned that they too can accomplish great things by working together. Seeing parents and community actively involved the project was a living testament that our school was important to a lot of people.
Prior to the start of the 2010-2011 school year, the administration shared the findings and recommendations of the School-wide Planning Team with David Schommer, who serves as Adopt-A-School Campus Contact for the school. It was agreed that he would begin exploring ways to enhance the existing literacy / math / science program through corporate sponsorship, in addition to his responsibilities as Project Leader for the Watkins Playground Project.
In addition to serving as a member of the JPS Partners in Education Advisory Board, Mr. Schommer was appointed to the JPS District Sustainability / Recycling Committee and agreed to serve as recycling coordinator for the school. Implementing the recycling program would be used, in part, as a way of stimulating student interest in environmental awareness, math and science. He would also investigate the possibility of applying for a Laura Bush Foundation grant, for the library. He continued to work with our adopter Southern Farm Bureau, other specialty partners and new PTA President Carolyn Nelson. Southern Farm Bureau reaffirmed its commitment to help us achieve our goals. The PTA agreed to offer financial / volunteer support. Mr. Schommer would work with the PTA to develop a PTA website which would allow for improved communication with parents, students, adopters, sponsors and potential adopters / sponsors. The district would be kept well informed of our goals and effort.
Knowing the obesity/health concerns of our state, it was agreed that we would work closely with The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. We would continue with Phase III of the playground project (funded by The Junior League, Community Foundation of Greater Jackson, Home Depot and Community Bank) and pursue other opportunities to further develop our Health, Wellness and Nutrition program.  A playground committee for Phase III was assembled. A grant-writing committee was established to pursue Project Fit America, which is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Received Project Fit America Grant; installed large canopy to provide shade and protect new kindergarten playground equipment; installed 2 new basketball goals on blacktop. National Read Across America Day, Book Buddies, Summer Reading Program, reading and science fairs, Space Day Event, Traveling Space Museum, one of only six Mississippi schools selected for Laura Bush Foundation Grant.
Watkins named Level 5 Star School by the Mississippi Department of Education for the first time. JPS District Ranking improved from 7th to 4th place  out of 58; MS Department of Education QDI increased 40 points. Received $39,000+ in donations for Phase III and IV of the playground project and increased total number of adopters. PTA membership hit all-time high in Sept. 2011 with 271 families. Received Healthy Lifestyle Change Award, recognized for having the Best Pep Rally to promote the Fit-4-Teaching 5K Walk / Run.