Sharon Biros had a dream for her Clairton Elementary students, and she stuck with it for four years.
She wanted a new playground for the children, a much-needed project to replace an old and rusty playset. Last month, that dream became a reality, giving them something she believes wholeheartedly they deserve and can learn from and enjoy every day.
Biros spent her entire career at Clairton, starting as a reading specialist and teaching first and fifth grades there. She taught first graders for 22 years before retiring, somewhat unplanned, at the end of the 2022-23 school year. One part of her educational philosophy is the value of play for youngsters.
“I took them out every day [to that playground], even if it was cold,” she said. “I believed they had to get out and get that energy out [in order to learn].”
The 25-year-old playground at the school had rusted equipment, parts of it sticking out in dangerous ways, but Biros and her students made the most of it. The deplorable condition, though, prompted the idea of raising money for a new one.
Getting there proved to be difficult. Biros found PlayGO Co. and worked with its owner and CEO, Valerie Lynne-Pivick Murphy, to select a design.
“We went back and forth on the design,” she said, “then I started the fundraising, sending out letters and letters to the community, businesses and more. I probably sent out about 200 letters over the course of time.”
She also started a GoFundMe account for it, raising about $800. “That was the holdup, the money issue,” she said.
Her previous superintendent, Ginny Hunt, Ph.D., and she started looking for grants and help. And assistance did come from state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport. He led them to a $150,000 state grant, and the school district had some remaining money from pandemic and physical education-centered grants to cover the remainder of the total cost — $191,829. The ribbon-cutting for the playground took place last month.
Biros knew what she wanted and didn’t want from spending so much time on the old playground, and she sought the advice of the playground company and others.
“We wanted different levels. I wanted more slides, more interactive parts,” she explained. “With the new playground, they can do math problems, [and] they can do some music stuff. They can spin a wheel that tells them to do things. There’s the physical part and the creative play part.
“They never had swings. So I put in eight swings, which are good, obviously, for physical development for everyone.”
The play area also includes four big basketball hoops, where the students can shoot balls and they come out in four different directions. All of it is transformational from what had been there.
“I believe it’s good for K-8 students, but really it’s good for all ages,” Biros said. “There’s the kid in all of us. You just might want to go down the slide or go on the swings.”
The playground also doubles as an outdoor classroom, she added. The math portion enables the children to do addition, multiplication and subtraction problems. The main playset also has little drums the students can play, as well as a little store for creative play. Biros said the new ground beneath it all is poured foam, which is very comfortable for the students to sit on.
“The bigger dream was there would be a space at the far end or somewhere else on the grounds to have a sitting area, benches and a pavilion for a true outdoor classroom, but we just did not have not enough funding,” she said. “But they can sit anywhere out there.”
Current Superintendent Tamara Allen-Thomas, Ed.D., thanked Biros for seeing a need and seeking out the resources to make sure that it was met.
“Mrs. Biros demonstrated a very important trait that we want to instill in all our scholars, and that word is perseverance,” she said. “If you have a dream, pursue it and never be afraid to ask for help.”
She is also grateful to and thanked Brewster “for always thinking of Clairton and providing us with the resources to ensure a needed playground was constructed for our scholars,” as well as everyone in the district who had a part in the project’s completion. That includes the school board, former superintendent Hunt, the district’s custodial team, business manager and others, Allen-Thomas said.
For Biros, “I just wanted to do one last thing and do something for the school. You’re not going to reach all the kids. [But with] the playground, everyone would have the opportunity to use it.”
Now that the playground is in place and in use, Biros listed two items as the best parts of the project’s completion. “Safety is No. 1,” she said. “But the excitement in the children’s faces, too. They were so excited when they got to the new space.”