SOURIS — It was the win of a lifetime for a small rural school in eastern P.E.I.
The entire population of Souris Consolidated School assembled in the gymnasium Tuesday morning wearing orange Stand Up to Bullying T-shirts along with colourful hats and signs.
The countdown was on and the television show Canada AM would be announcing the winner of the Aviva Community Fund grand prize national winner just after 9 a.m. It started with almost 2,500 entries and was down to the final handful including Souris consolidated.
The silence was only broken by a low murmur as hundreds of youngsters and teachers prepared for the outcome.
When the winner was announced the silence continued for a few seconds. Eyes widened and expressions changed as the uproar swirled around the room like a nor’ easter.
There were cheers, cries, shouts of delight as children jumped to their feet to celebrate that Souris consolidated — a school with about 300 students — had won the Gold Prize worth $135,000.
The project of building a new inclusive Souris Playground for All this year had won against thousands of entries from across the country.
“We’re a small town and accumulating the amount of funds that we need to take on a project of this magnitude is a big job,” said principal Lynne MacPhee to a background of cheering children. “The whole community came together and every child that pressed that button to 'vote now' has invested in this victory. It’s really a life-changing event for our community because it will be with us for a long time.”
The cheque for $135,000 will pay for the construction of a new inclusive playground that will be built this summer. It will be built next to Souris Regional High School, which is undergoing a major renovation project to turn it into a kindergarten to Grade 12 facility.
The current consolidated school where children celebrated Tuesday will be torn down.
“We had to press a lot of buttons to win,’’ offered Pierce Campbell sharing in the fun.
MacPhee said the playground design and budget is already to go and the victory means it must be completed by the end of the year.
“It’s a great win for these kids and we’re talking about a national contest,’’ said Gordon Murray, vice-president of regional affairs for Aviva who attended the ceremony.
MacPhee said the extra special delight of the win is that the new Souris school – to be completed for the fall – did not include the costs of a playground.
“We are going to have one incredible official opening.”
The principal said the victory was the work of students, parents, home and school, teachers, staff members, town citizens and friends and family from near and far. Even senior citizens not savvy on the computer were given crash courses how to vote and keep Souris moving on the way to the finish line.
The idea for an inclusive playground started a few years ago when students in one classroom at Souris Consolidated were upset that their classmate, John Lang, who has cerebral palsy, couldn't join them on the school playground.
John, known for his amazing smile, saw his classmates at the time start working on a project to design an inclusive playground.
Souris school kids celebrate the confirmation of winning the $135,000 Aviva Community Fund grand prize Tuesday that will turn into an inclusive playground this summer.
©Guardian photo by Steve Sharratt