The kids at the Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf were as thrilled to meet Captain Fear as they were to see their new playground
Earlier this past May, students at Clearwater's Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf walked through their facility's front doors in preparation for another typical day at school.
What they experienced instead was the surprise unveiling of a brand new playground, recently completed thanks to a 2008 grant from the Glazer Family Foundation.
On Monday, Foundation staff, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders and Captain Fear visited the school to see the new playground in action, getting a first-hand look at the Foundation's efforts to impact the lives of children throughout the Tampa Bay Community.
"The kids were ecstatic," said Carol Downing, Associate Director of the school. "We had kept it a big secret and then we finally let the kids outside. We told them, 'We had a big surprise out back thanks to the Bucs!' I don't think they realized to what extent, and when we opened that back door, the kids just poured out. I think they even tried to climb the fence."
Monday's visit showcased the youth's gratitude for the new equipment, as laughter and smiles filled the faces of the children enjoying the tire swing, double see-saw and jungle gym alongside their favorite cheerleaders and mascot.
"What you're seeing today is pretty much how they use it every day," Downing added with smile. "They have a blast on this thing."
Along with the completion of the playground, the grant funds went towards the purchase of such athletic equipment as a soccer goal, a volleyball net and a variety of sports balls.
Before the Foundation's grant, the playground at Blossom was in a state of disrepair.
"It was a plastic castle thing that was dry-rotted and cracking," Downing noted. "The older kids couldn't even get on it because it was too small. It was becoming a death trap of sorts."
Monday's visitors were not only given an opportunity to see their grant put to use but were provided with an in-depth look at the school. The Montessori school system is designed for hands-on education that caters to each individual student's needs. Blossom works with children ages 3-15 to prepare students for the Florida public school system, with a curriculum that gives each child the best possible chance to succeed in the future.
"If there are eight kids, there are going to be eight lessons plans," explained Maria Kadau, Blossom's Director of Development.
Added Downing: "There are plenty of Montessori schools in the county and state but we're the only deaf one."
As Blossom is Florida's only Montessori-based educational facility for the deaf and hard of hearing, students and volunteers travel from throughout the state to take advantage of its specialized approach to teaching and learning. Blossom's programs assist children with deaf parents, hearing impaired children and even individuals that desire to learn sign language and be exposed to a more diverse range of learning.
On Monday, Foundation staff and Buccaneers guests enjoyed a tour of the facility, whose walls had been decorated with Buccaneer-themed drawings and posters by the students. One such illustration featured a life-size depiction of a young Bucs cheerleader – a self-portrait by a 12-year-old student who is completely deaf. The young girl aspires to cheer on her favorite team from the sidelines one day, and in the past few weeks had asked her teachers if such an accomplishment was possible.
When the cheerleaders arrived in the flesh on Monday, they answered that question with an affirmative yes, much to the young girl's delight.
Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf has boasted high test scores and a strong success rate for its students entering the public school system. Now in its sixth year, Blossom continues to grow and educate its students on academics as well as social skills, providing over 40 children throughout the regular school year with a specialized academic curriculum compliant with Florida's public school system.
"We are a small school with a big mission," Downing said upon accepting the grant back in March. "The purpose for the grant was to let kids be kids. We want to give them a playground so they can just be kids and they don't have to be deaf, and a safe environment too, because we've got them of all ages. We need to make sure that everything is accessible and everything is safe for all the kids to enjoy themselves.
"This grant is an investment in the happiness of children, and I don't think there's a better purpose for it."