As students whizzed past on jumbo tricycles and competed in large-scale games of Connect 4 and checkers, smiles were abound at Hamilton Crossing Elementary’s after school program. The afternoon of fun and learning was made possible by the Bartow County Parks and Recreation’s Rollin’ Rec. Nov. 6.
“At check out, the students were so excited to tell their parents about every detail of their time in after school,” said Randi Burlison, a third grade teacher and after school coordinator at Hamilton Crossing. “As I approached the field to check on the students and staff, I could hear music and lots of laughter. During a time with so much stress and chaos, hearing children laughing can bring you pure joy.”
During the mobile unit’s visit, 75 students, ranging in age from 4 to 11, immersed themselves in a wide array of activities.
“The after school staff and I were very impressed with the program,” Burlison said. “The Bartow County Rec Department was very timely, organized and enthusiastic to work with our after school students.
“The rec department staff bought everything with them for the event — staff, activities, equipment, materials, etc.,” she said, adding some of the program’s components included “fire safety with local firefighters, large tricycles, large checker set, games, mini basketball hoop, football, baseball, coloring sheets, sidewalk chalk, hula hoops, kickball [and] four square.”
With the launch of Rollin’ Rec in October, Bartow County Parks and Recreation expanded its reach in the community, with the help of Bartow County Fire and Emergency Services and Cartersville Medical Center. The latter two organizations provide valuable lessons to the students — fire prevention and nutrition information, respectively.
“We realize that not everyone has the same opportunities to play in our programs and we wanted to reach out to every area of our county, and give everyone the chance to learn and enjoy what our county has to offer,” said Greg Hight, director of Bartow County Parks and Recreation. “Mobile Rec is about kids being kids, kids playing games, with no pressure of winning.”
Due to COVID-19, Rollin’ Rec’s initial springtime debut was delayed numerous months. For now, the recreation department will focus its efforts surrounding the mobile unit to local after school programs. Its future plans are to start visiting neighborhoods in spring 2021.
“We have targeted the schools’ after school programs to begin to introduce this program so that when we start to go out into the community and neighborhoods, the kids and parents will recognize us and realize they can send their kids out into a fun and safe environment,” said Haley Hood, Bartow County Parks and Recreation’s special events coordinator, Monday. “Our first location was Kingston Elementary on Oct. 14. Since then, we have visited two other schools, Cloverleaf and Hamilton Elementary, and over 200 kids with more to come in the upcoming weeks.
“When we send the Rollin’ Rec unit out, we all become teachers, mentors and whatever role we need to take, to share in the enjoyment in the lives of every youth we encounter. We just want this to be a positive experience for everyone. We want to know that each of them had a good time and felt personally cared about.”
With Rollin’ Rec’s purpose aligning with CMC’s “mission to give back to this great community,” Brad Cothran jumped at the chance to be involved in the outreach effort. As the EMS/business liaison for Cartersville Medical Center, he is able to provide nutritional information in person and through take-home materials during the after-school visits.
“We encourage the children to choose to drink water or ‘no sugar added’ drinks instead of drinks that are high in sugar,” Cothran said. “We also provide bottled water to all of the participants on event days. The kids always want to take the pages to color and ask numerous questions. We hope the kids choose to eat healthy and stay active, but most of all, have fun.
“I really enjoy seeing the smiles on all the kids’ faces and watching the adults participating with the kids, in activities ranging from kickball to dancing. I myself have had the opportunity to play basketball, ride tricycles and yes, even jump rope with the kids.”
Considering it a “great honor to be a part of Rollin’ Rec,” Bartow County Fire and Emergency Services Capt. Derrick Evans was thrilled to accept Hight’s offer this summer to join the mobile unit’s team.
“For BCRD it is an opportunity to give back to the community and introduce recreation to children in hopes that it will encourage children to participate in sports throughout life,” said Evans, public safety education coordinator for BCFES. “Promoting a healthy lifestyle of exercise through the love of sports. It is also Director Greg Hight’s hope to find those children — [who are] less fortunate and have not had the opportunity to play competitive sports due to low finances, sponsorship, etc. — and let that child know that in Bartow County no child is left behind and if that is all that is keeping that child back from participating, Rollin’ Rec will find a way.
“For BCFES, it was also a way to give back to the community and introduce fire safety education on a different level. In my 20-plus years in the fire service, I have learned you can’t have a closed mind when it comes to educating children about fire safety education.”
Through the years, Evans has seen many new methods of teaching prove to be successful, and is always open to looking at new ways to present fire safety education. During their Rollin’ Rec visits, Evans and his fellow firefighters underscore the importance of residential fire safety and double check that every student has a working smoke alarm at home.
“Some of the best memories we have made is interacting with the kids playing ball, racing, playing checkers and the list goes on,” Evans said. “This gives the children time to realize firefighters are friendly. So when and if we ever have to rescue them in a fire and they can’t see us because of our firefighting gear, it is our hope the children will be more aware of the firefighters in their gear because of the interactions they have had with us in Rollin’ Rec.”
For Hood, the opportunity to “interact personally with the kids” is her favorite part of the Rollin’ Rec experience.
“When we were packing up at Kingston Elementary School, there was a kid that came up to us and said, ‘I don't want y’all to leave,’ then the same thing happened at Cloverleaf.
“At Hamilton Elementary, a little boy actually got called to go home and then talked his mom into letting him stay so he came right back to play. It is the small things that you do and little moments with children that make them feel important.”