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Gabbi Saybe, a fourth-grader at Calvin Donaldson elementary looks at grass blades under a microscope in the school's new science lab on Friday. She is holding Dutch, one of the school's rabbits. Grants from Annenberg and the Benwood foundations, totaling to $150,000, allowed the school to revamp their science lab and playground with all new equipment.

Gone are the days of cuts, scrapes and burns students endured from the old rusty playground at Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy.

Instead, a set of shiny slides, swings and even a plastic rock-climbing wall round out an updated play space outside the environmental science-themed elementary school in Alton Park. The playground, and upgrades to the science lab, were made possible by combined grants of $150,000 from the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children and the Benwood Foundation.

"I think the students would agree with me that a great place to learn also deserves a great place to play," said Lori Quillen, Benwood's community program director.

Inside, the science lab was repainted and now is stocked with new furniture, equipment and animals. This week, students showed off the range of capabilities the new materials afford. Students demonstrated on microscopes, experimented on Skittles and showed off the beans, lettuce and peppers they've planted in giant grow racks.

"There's more to do," said third-grader Domonique Woods, who dissected owl pellets, a hard pouch of indigestible bones, feathers and fur that birds of prey regurgitate. "And it's much cleaner."

While school leaders celebrated the infusion of resources, they also noted that the improvements weren't just about money. With advanced materials, professionals and scientists are more willing to lend their time and expertise to the school.

"It brings up the caliber of education we're able to provide to the level where experts say, 'If you have the resources, we have the time,'" said Stephen Bontekoe, Calvin Donaldson's field expedition specialist.

Calvin Donaldson is a high-poverty, mostly black school. With limited resources, the school has leaned on grant funding, business partnerships and volunteers to help enrich the programming offered.

"They are some incredible kids," said Principal Becky Coleman, "and they deserve the absolute best we can give them."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at 423-757-6249 or