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Volunteers map out Rio playground attraction

August 21, 2018

RIO — They were all over the map.

About a dozen telecommunications industry retirees and some parents of Rio Elementary School pupils weren’t intimidated by forecasts of rain, as they spent the better part of Monday morning creating a map of the United States on a newly blacktopped surface of the school’s revitalized playground.

The forecast wasn’t a factor because the paint is the same kind used to paint lines on highways. It dries fast, and it lasts five to seven years, said Pam Clapper, past president of the Wisconsin chapter of the AT&T Pioneers, a volunteer organization composed of telecommunications retirees and a few active employees.

Jamie Gavitt, treasurer of the Rio Parent-Teacher Organization, said the new map is part of a summer-long effort to improve the playground in time for the Sept. 4 start of the school year.

Over the summer, old fixtures like swings were been replaced, and new equipment has been added, such as seesaws made from boards and old tires, an outdoor play kitchen and an old boat buried in the ground for “pretend” cruises.

But when the blacktop on the play area was replaced, the old U.S. map that had been painted there was covered, Gavitt said.

She said she saw images on Facebook of the U.S. map the AT&T Pioneers had painted on the Windsor Elementary School playground in Dane County, and wanted something like it for Rio.

“Our old map was just a white outline, so now we have a pop of color,” Gavitt said.

Five colors, to be exact — red, blue, yellow, pea green and a pale, almost-white shade of lavender.

Although some colors clearly reflect the characteristics of the states — Wisconsin, for example, is done in red — the color strategy basically entails making sure that two bordering states aren’t the same color, Clapper said.

The map is not, in the strictest sense, accurate. Hawaii is located just off the coast of southern California, and Alaska is smaller than Texas, when in reality, Alaska is the largest U.S. state at 663,227 square miles and Texas, the second-largest state, is about one-third that size.

Nevertheless, the map is, for students, a source of both fun and geographic knowledge.

For example, Clapper said, some teachers use the map as a way for students to get acquainted with each other, by inviting them to stand on the state where they were born, or on a state to which they’ve traveled.

“It creates a conversation,” she said. “It opens up a dialogue about where they’ve been and where they want to go.”

Children were not invited to help paint the map because of the detail required for the task — including using a stencil to mark the states’ borders with painted dots, then connect the dots with white paint.

But there were plenty of youngsters running around the playground, using the other new attractions.

Jim Jermaine, vice president of external affairs at AT&T in Madison, said the task of creating a map takes between four and five hours, including adding a second coat of some of the colors, such as red and yellow, to ensure their durability.

Clapper said Rio’s map was the 31st that she’s helped paint since 2007, and it’s the last one this group plans to create before the start of the coming school year.

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