For most middle-schoolers, recess is the ultimate respite from sitting for hours at a desk. The 15 minutes of outdoor relaxation and play is often eagerly anticipated. But for the students at Belhaven Middle School, recess may need a little brightening.

Every day, more than 400 students at the Linwood school open the doors to a site where lunch bags get thrown on the ground and trash often sits around - with no usable receptacle in sight. Some students play football in a small dirt patch. Many are left with nothing to do - walking around aimlessly, kicking acorns.

"Half the time we are out there, we don't know what to do. There's not much to do out there other than play in the dirt," said sixth-grader Christine Napoli, 12. "I'd rather be in the school and do other stuff than go outside."

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The current condition of the outdoor space does not match the bright and cheerful walls of the school's interior, which features colorful murals on one wall and inspiring quotations on another.

"They really just wanted a space to match the inside," fifth-grade social studies teacher Jamie Schaffer said.

By the end of December, plans to have this space could become a reality.

Over the course of the past two years, students in Pete Davis' fifth-grade industrial technology class were asked to design their dream outdoor recreation area, using Google SketchUp, free software that allows users to create and modify 2D and 3D models.

Surveys of the land were made, blueprints were studied and students got to work on the computers, creating their ideal space.

On a recent Monday, sixth-grader, Pat Taylor, 12, showed off his design, which included water fountains, a jungle gym and tables encircling trees, a design element that Davis said his students could likely help build.

Fundraising efforts by the students collected about $1,000 - a start, but not enough to cover even the smallest expenses, Schaffer said.

Luckily for the middle school students, an email about the Clorox Co.'s "Power a Bright Future" grant program landed in their teachers' inboxes.

For the fourth year, the company will award a $50,000 grant to a school in need of improvement that receives the most overall votes.

On Nov. 26, Belhaven Middle School ranked number 33 in the "play" category, out of 2,500 nominees across the nation.

Davis, who says the process has been nonstop since late October, is proud of their standings, considering they were ranked at 580 just a few weeks ago. "But we have to be No. 1," he said.

Schools across the country nominated themselves to receive new technologies, art centers or reconstruction of pre-existing playgrounds, but Belhaven proves to be unique. It's something that the students designed, Schaffer said.

"Very few (nominations) have little out there to start with," Davis continued.

Belhaven has a basketball court, provided by an outside source, which was put in place only a year ago, but signs of deterioration are showing.

Belhaven's final design, involving elements thought up by eight of Davis' classes, includes nothing extravagant: sod to replace dirt, tables and benches where students can sit, talk and possibly have class, trash and recycling cans, a retaining wall to keep dirt away, bike racks and safe football and soccer fields.

The layout will include at least three Frisbee golf nets, for which the school received grants from the Linwood Educational Foundation, Schaffer said.

The staff and students want more out of the space, a space that will be used by all the members of the community, especially since bike paths connect the local schools.

"Upcoming students from Seaview (Elementary) could use it, too," said sixth-grader Sam Murphy, 11.

Sam also said she has her grandmother texting to vote every day, to ensure a win.

"We've been emailing, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, you name it, everything possible, every day," Davis said of getting the votes to win.

The Power a Bright Future grant program will award seven grants - four based on votes and three based on merit.

To get one of them, Belhaven is relying on family, friends and the community to provide the votes.

"Mainland won the UnderArmour challenge," Schaffer said. "We have a community that is very loyal."

Davis and Schaffer said they would fill with pride if Belhaven is a winner, but said the main focus will be the pride of the students.

"It's more about them," Davis said. "For them to have it actually come into a reality - to take a dream and have it be a reality - it would be great to see them enjoy it."

To vote for Belhaven Middle School, text 2360pbf to 95248 daily or see powerabright Voting ends Dec. 19.

Contact Caitlin Honan:


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