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Jefferson Elementary School in West Allis students wins $15,000 for new playground equipment

Kindergartener Lilly Przybylski takes flight on Jefferson Elementary School playground swings on June 12. Przybylski won the $15,000 grand prize in the General Mills Box Tops for Education Sweepstakes on behalf of Jefferson School, which will put the money toward more playground equipment.

Kindergartener Lilly Przybylski takes flight on Jefferson Elementary School playground swings on June 12. Przybylski won the $15,000 grand prize in the General Mills Box Tops for Education Sweepstakes on behalf of Jefferson School, which will put the money toward more playground equipment. Photo By C.T. Kruger

June 18, 2014

West Allis — Everyone is flying high at Jefferson Elementary School, 7229 W. Becher St., West Allis, because kindergartner Lilly Przybylski won $15,000 that will be put toward a new school playground.

The play equipment will be put up in August and will be paid for entirely through fundraising and donations.

Lilly's $15,000 was from General Mills and was the grand prize in the Roundy's Box Tops for Education Sweepstakes.

The whole school had been sending in General Mills box tops for months because Jefferson gets money for each one.

Little Lilly was really on board with that.

"She got very into finding them everywhere in the house," said Lilly's mother Jessica. And when it came to the sweepstakes, well, Lilly was all over that, too, mom says.

"Lilly was pretty adamant," she said. So, one night mom took 15 minutes and filled out about 20 bonus box top print-out coupons from Pick 'n Save and sent them in.

It was one of those coupons that won the sweepstakes.

Mom couldn't believe it.

"I called back a couple of times to make sure it wasn't a scam," the disbelieving Jessica said. "I never ever won anything before."

The occasion was so novel that the whole school got together for the presentation of a huge check to little Lilly who accepted it for the school.

That huge check is riding atop an even more huge wave of fundraising for the playground that has swept up the whole school all year long.

It actually was sparked by Boy Scout Zac Blohm, 15, of Oak Creek. He was looking for an Eagle Scout project last year and heard how little play equipment Jefferson has. He offered to do fundraising and build a playground, but he wanted to name it in memory of his baby sister Veronica who died in January 2013 at the age of just one month and five days.

Zac's offer was a blessing.

Jefferson's 580 students share just eight swings plus some other equipment. And at every recess long lines of children wait to play on the swings. Kids swing for a count of 20 and then they have to get off and let the next student on.

The new playground, to be installed with a community build on Aug. 16, will have 16 swings plus slides and lots of things to climb on. While the plans are being firmed up, those climbing options could be such things as curving ladders, a corkscrew and even a grid-like climbing feature.

The school showed the kids one of the potential options and it took their breath away. Principal Lynn Wall said: "If you could have heard the entire audience, the gasp of those kids."

Either that option or something similar will be waiting for them this fall and Wall said she might even be happier than the kids: "I'm going to be like a beaming mom that first recess Sept. 2."

"They're just going to have a wonderful treat," she said.

Since last spring, fundraising has been at a fever pitch for Veronica's Playground with the PTA leading it off with a rummage sale and a number of other fundraisers, Wall said.

The school launched its efforts as soon as school started. Cookie sales, class competitions for getting the most box tops and selling bracelets for $1 were just a few of the school fundraisers.

Wall said it was wonderful how enthusiastic the students were.

"Little kids ran up to me and said, 'I made $17 today for Veronmica's Playground,'" by selling the bracelets, Wall said.

Zac promoted the fundraisers and helped with a bunch of them, even dancing with the kids at a dance party for the class that won the box top competition, his mother Heather Kosloske said.

Boy Scouts in Oak Creek helped raise money, too, and Zac spoke to groups including the Knights of Columbus and local firefighters to ask for donations, Kosloske said. He sold tickets to a benefit spaghetti dinner and used Facebook to publicize events, she said. They even sold T-shirts.

The project gave the family something positive to focus on through a tough time, Kosloske said. Little Veronica was born at only 34 weeks.

Veronica spent her first weeks in the hospital but was eventually allowed to come home.

"She spent a week at home," Kosloske said, and then one morning she wasn't breathing. Kosloske started CPR but it was too late. The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner found nothing organically wrong with the infant.

"No disease, no abnormalities," Kosloske said. The Medical Examiner's conclusion was that she had an episode of sleep apnea where breathing stops for a time and her tiny body could not recover from the loss of oxygen, Kosloske said.

Because of Zac's Eagle Scout project, instead of just her family remembering little Veronica, a whole school will remember her.

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