President Obama and Young Americans

For the Win: A Big Idea

For the Win is a guest blog series featuring the remarkable initiatives that young Americans are advancing to win the future for their communities. Each week we highlight a new young person and learn about their inspiring work through their own words. Submit your story to appear in the For the Win guest blog series.

Andrea de Avila, 25, is a pre-kindergarten teacher at St. Edmund School in Oak Park, Ill. Her idea was awarded the grand prize in Scholastic’s third annual “Clifford BE BIG in Your Community Contest.” Scholastic Media, a division of Scholastic Inc., the global children’s publishing, education and media company, and HandsOn Network, the volunteer activation division of Points of Light Institute and largest volunteer network in the nation, announced winners of the contest, a signature component of the ongoing Clifford The Big Red Dog® BE BIG!™ campaign sponsored by American Family Insurance earlier this week.

St. Edmund School, Winners of the Third Annual Clifford the Big Red Dog® BE BIG™ In Your Community Contest

From left: Jennie Izaguirre, Doris Loong, Andrea de Avila and Kakie Conroy-Lovass, St.Edmond School Oak Park, IL, October 12, 2011. (Photo by Bill Richert)

As a member of a small school community, I know firsthand that it is imperative for teachers to be proactive in providing students with the best opportunities. Parents choose St. Edmund School in Oak Park, Ill. for their children because of its reputation as not only a strong academic school, but a caring one as well. However, it’s a great disadvantage to our students that we do not have an outside playground or a safe outdoor play or learning environment of any kind for them. As an early childhood educator, I understand just how important play is for a child’s growth and development for all of the children we teach, from three to 14-years-old.

Just outside my early childhood classroom is a window-level roof. My teaching teammates and I envisioned transforming this unused space into the ideal outdoor play area for students. We thought it would provide our program with a much-needed space for regular play and learning, and offer older grades endless opportunities for year-round, garden-based science projects. It is important to us that we offer our students the best education and environment for learning and instill in them the values of working hard to make a difference.  But neither the team nor the school had the financial means to take on the project alone.

My class subscribes to Scholastic’s Clifford the Big Red Dog educational magazines. In one of our monthly packages last spring, promotional material about the third annual “Clifford BE BIG in Your Community Contest” and grant was included. Because our students are big fans of Clifford, we saw the contest as a great opportunity to make our BIG idea come to fruition. Much to our surprise and excitement, my team’s idea was recently named the contest’s $25,000 grand prize winner! With the combined efforts and generosity of Scholastic Media, American Family Insurance and HandsOn Network/Chicago Cares, we can now create the outdoor classroom of our dreams.

As teachers, we strive every day to instill in students the importance of independence and strength of character. As a small school, we work together very closely. My team and I are committed to giving our students a safe outside place to learn and play. It is empowering for our students to see exactly what commitment and hard work can achieve!

Civic engagement helps all young people grow, meet new friends, build new ideas and beliefs, and foster a greater sense of self worth, confidence and ability. Here in Oak Park our idea was to create an eco-friendly space that teaches students the importance of caring for our earth and making a difference. But my team and I hope that our participation in the BE BIG program also will help our students build confidence to go after their dreams as they grow up, and incorporate the ideas they learn from Clifford (such as work together, have respect, help others) into their lives.

We can’t wait to embark on this exciting journey and look forward to the day when we can officially open our outdoor play area!

Check out previous For the Win blog posts: For the Win: It's All About Sole, For the Win Special Edition: Making Your Mark, For the Win: Riding the Green School Bus, For the Win: Sharing a Love of Reading, For the Win: Jacob Bernstein, For the Win; Dylan Mahalingam.

Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

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