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Putt-Putt Golf at Belle Terre Elementary: 9-Hole Course Meets School Board Bogeys

| April 19, 2011

School board members make lousy caddies. (c Luann Green)

The principal of an A-rated school—as Belle Terre Elementary has been since it opened in 2004—has leverage to think up unusual ideas for his campus, as Stephen Hinson likes to do. A few weeks ago he proposed to open up the skating rink at the school to community uses, on a fee basis. The school board heard his proposal but had a lot of questions, shelving the idea for now.

Tuesday evening, Hinson was back with a new idea: putt-putt golf for the Belle Terre playground, paid for in part by $58,000 in capital dollars, sitting in an account for the past four years because the money can only be used for capital uses at the school. Again, the school board demurred.

Andy Dance, one of the school board members, cast doubt on the numbers and rationale Hinson presented. School board member Colleen Conklin worried about sending the wrong message—cutting budgets, laying off teachers and scaling back school time in middle and high schools while building a nine-hole putt-putt golf course on an elementary school campus, which would cost $30,000 to $35,000, before maintenance and equipment is included.

“If we’re talking about putt-putt and we’re talking about budget cuts, we need to be able to explain this” to taxpayers, Conklin said.

Belle terre elementary principal stephen hinson

Stephen Hinson (FlaglerLive)

Hinson must have felt a bit shell-shocked. He’d spent the previous 30 minutes laying out his plan, and explaining its origins. Belle Terre Elementary is a high-performing school. Some parents there want a bit more freewheeling playground time for their children. But the school’s playground is deteriorating. And Hinson showed that since 2008, half the serious playground injuries in the school district have taken place at Belle Terre—including seven fractured bones. (There are 1,500 students at Belle Terre Elementary.) Replacing some playground equipment with putt-putt would spread out playground choices, offer up a low-impact, less risky form of exercise, and play into children’s wishes. “I felt it was my responsibility to try to make changes,” Hinson said, referring to the incidence of injuries. “Spreading out the playground equipment will help where all the kids aren’t in the same area” on the same equipment.

Hinson was also armed with a student survey, the result of 1,342 students marking off three choices: switching out old playground equipment for new, switching out old playground equipment for putt-putt, and removing playground equipment altogether and replacing it with “field space for organized games.” The putt-putt option garnered 49 percent of the vote. Replacing old equipment with new got 36 percent. And removing all equipment came in at 15 percent.

Dance wasn’t impressed. The higher incidence of injuries could just as well have to do with too many students using too few playground stations, he said, which argues for more, and more spread out, playground equipment, not less. Dance also thought the survey should include parents.

“I heard from some SAC parents that there is some resistance,” Dance said, referring to the Belle Terre School Advisory Council, which is made up of a majority of parents. “As I understand, they didn’t have a say in showing their enthusiasm one way or another.”

Hinson, speaking before the full board, reminded Dance that the council has not objected to the putt-putt idea. Hinson went further, questioning whether Dance has actually been to one of those meetings (he has not). After the meeting Hinson, speaking of his student survey, noted that children use playground equipment, not adults.

Hinson didn’t have more time to press his case. The board wanted to end the presentation and move on to an expulsion hearing. The putt-putt idea isn’t dead. Nor is Hinson’s earlier idea about opening up the rink to community rentals. “This playground and that equipment at that school has been an issue since that school opened,” Superintendent Janet Valentine said. Whether it’s putt-putt or other playground refurbishings, “we’re headed in the right direction.”

But for now, that direction is on hold pending more details from Hinson.

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27 Responses for “Putt-Putt Golf at Belle Terre Elementary: 9-Hole Course Meets School Board Bogeys”

  1. This is what's wrong with the system says:

    “…paid for in part by $58,000 in capital dollars, sitting in an account for the past four years because the money can only be used for capital uses at the school. ”

    That statement is what’s wrong with the school system. That $58,000 could be used to hire a teacher, but teachers aren’t capital. Was anyone fighting this in Tallahassee? Was anyone fighting mandatory textbook adoption? Regardless of who’s in office, the laws need to be changed on how schools are funded.

    And put-put is exercise? If that’s your argument, no wonder they said no.

  2. Jim Guines says:

    Wow, what a great idea! Mr. Hinson has really been thinking out of the box. He would get my full support if I were still on the board. That play ground is falling apart. A put put course would be great there. ou can’t use capital funds for the kind of stuff they are cutting.

  3. concerned parent says:

    the injuries might increase with elementary students with golf clubs and flying balls and i am sure those clubs would be flying too just a thought

  4. SoccerMom says:

    So arming children with golf clubs will reduce playground injuries? My children are students at Belle Terre and I am very much against this idea. My daughter told me that on the survey that she filled out she voted for both new equipment and the putt putt course, so I don’t think it was a true representative survey.

  5. wsh302@msn says:

    great idea Mr. Hinson but you see you have one thing against you, you have common sense.

  6. Jerry M says:

    It’s Putt-Putt not Put-Put and a ridiculous idea nonetheless.

  7. Liana G says:

    ‘That S58,000 could be used to hire a teacher’ yes one teacher for one and a half year. Then what? That does not address the question of over weight kids, undisciplined kids, and kids constantly getting hurt during recess/PE because of a poorly planned facility that cannot accommodate 1,500+ students.

    Thank you Dr Guines. You would have received my full support too!

    – ‘you can’t use capital funds for the kind of stuff they are cutting.’ – Maybe so, but one never can tell. That would probably explain why the idea got shelved so quickly following the protest. I take it none of their kids attend that school.

    Golf / put-put is a disciplined and focused sport/activity because it requires individual commitment/motivation. Is this no longer what we want from kids today? Even though the kids are telling us they do?

  8. Joe says:

    Way to Go Mr. Hinson, I too think this was a great outside the the box way of thinking. Its to bad that the board seems to worrying more about what the public reaction would be rather than let you and your school pilot this idea.

  9. Jenn Kuiper says:

    I’ve been hoping for mini-golf somewhere in Flagler County. It’s a skill-oriented game that could benefit students. It could end up earning money for the schools if they were able to rent it out for birthday parties. A close friend recently had a birthday party in Ormond for her son because he loved mini-golf and there wasn’t a closer facility. There is another course in St. Augustine but both are too far and it really can be a fun game for kids, especially those who may not be good at other sports. Thank you Mr. Hinson for thinking outside of the box!

  10. Mom says:

    Why is this activity a ridiculous idea? How many kids, grown ones included (including myself) like putt-putt. Let’s tally the number of these facilities out there and we have our answer.

  11. John says:

    Great Idea, but the wrong town. There are too many in this town that do not want these kinds of activities, regardless of where it is. If so, we would have a putt putt course in town providing activities for all our residents. Instead, we again have to travel north or south on the interstate to another town taking our tax money elsewhere.

    Sorry for the vent, but it felt good.

  12. Bewildered says:

    If folks want putt-putt, find the money and invest in such a business. With how well kids in this area take care of parks and recreation facilities, I’d hate to see my tax dollars go down a black hole like this idea. And if you want the kids to determine where to spend $58,000, why not just set up an arcade inside the school. Give them better equipment to play on. And then get the lawmakers to let the schools give the kids time to play outside.

  13. Rob says:

    Seems like no one on the school board has any idea how to use this money that has been available for four years. Yet they don’t want to hear from the principal, the head administrator of the facility.

    Andy Dance shot it down and by his own admission hasn’t attended one advisory council meeting.

    Here is what it sounds like to me the school board’s position is we don’t have any proposals but we don’t like yours either.

  14. SoccerMom says:

    Playgrounds can encourage imaginative play and every day can be a different experience. Putt putt might be fun the first or second time, but can you imagine a group of restless third graders having to play it everyday for the entire school year? I sure can and the whining will be unpleasant. I am all for a few volleyball sets where true exercise can be achieved and I would think it would be much less expensive. There are many possibilities other than putt putt…tetherball, basketball, hopscotch and so on.

  15. bellamia says:

    I would like to thank Mr Dance & Mrs Conklin for protecting my tax dollars. I think there is a huge difference between thinking out of the box and having money burning a hole in your pocket. I think it is disgusting that our children at BTES do not get recess, instead we are looking for ways to set up structured play This disturbs me from a psychological point of view. I am a BTES parent and have discussed this idea with other parents and I think it is ridiculous to even be discussing this while teachers are losing their jobs and kids will be losing education time:-(

  16. This is what's wrong with the system says:

    I’m sorry Dr. Guines didn’t read what I posted. I know you can’t use capital funds to hire teachers. I asked who is fighting to get the laws changed? I haven’t heard of anyone doing that. Maybe if they didn’t have these ridiculous laws/regulations/rules, that $58,000 would be used to hire a teacher, not make a putt-putt course.

    For people who are saying this is exercise, please google how many calories are burned playing putt-putt versus other activities. It’s not exercise.

  17. Liana G says:

    so the constant walking is not an exercise. How about the cognitive development aspect? I guess that’s useless to a society that just wants to keep raising sheep, sheep and more sheep. If we keep this up our gov’t will soon discard and replace these sheep with clones. At least clones will be far more productive and very much healthy.

  18. SoccerMom says:

    Liana G, I will respectively disagree. On a regular golf course sure there is constant walking, but a putt putt course it is take a few steps and wait. Apply the take a few steps and wait to a group of 60-70 kids at one time and you will have discontent and chaos when you should be having imaginative play and fun.

  19. Thinkforyourself says:

    Soccermom is exactly right!

  20. basketballmom says:

    I totally agree with SoccerMom and Bellamia. What happened to the good ole days of hopscotch, tetherball, dodgeball. Our kids need play time and discover the outside world. My student goes to BTES and this is the first I’ve heard that they have a skating rink.

  21. johninc says:

    Accolades to Mr. Hinson, whose unique perspective is needed, even more so in troubled financial times. Thumbs down to a school board who knows only how to say “no” but not how to say “perhaps, if….” This pervasive close-minded way of thinking is deleterious to our community as it grows. And it will grow, like it or not.

  22. Liana G says:

    To SoccerMom
    “Liana G, I will respectively disagree. On a regular golf course sure there is constant walking, but a putt putt course it is take a few steps and wait. Apply the take a few steps and wait to a group of 60-70 kids at one time and you will have discontent and chaos when you should be having imaginative play and fun.”

    60-70 kids at one time? Where does it say that? Do 60-70 kids play basketball, tennis, baseball, rounders, track, soccer, all at one time on a single court/field.

    To basketballmom

    You mentioned hopscotch, has this game/activity been banned. On the other hand, dodgeball has been banned in many school districts because research has found that it is demeaning and demoralizing, resulting in low self esteem and negative self worth well into adult life.

  23. SoccerMom says:

    Liana, the existing playground equipment is to be removed and replaced with this putt putt course. That would make it the only thing to do. The way that PE and if they are to have recess is conducted is that 2 to 3 classes at a time are together, which is from 45-70 kids depending on grade level.

  24. Jenn Kuiper says:

    They’re not going to get rid of all of the playground equipment, at least not all at once. From the Observer:

    “The extra space afforded to the school by a new construction project will create five distinct recess areas, Hinson said, which will lower student density and “relieve most of our issues.”

    The proposed nine-hole course could fit up to four students at each hole simultaneously — that’s double the number that can fit on playground equipment, he said. Also, an exercise trail will surround the course.

    Putt-putt is a cheaper, safer recess option, Hinson continued. It’s also academically beneficial: Students keep score and think geometrically….Belle Terre has created a Playground Committee, he said, the duty of which it is to re-incorporate playground equipment into the school’s five-year plan. Eventually, he wants new, age-appropriate equipment placed in more strategic locations around the school and putt-putt course.”

    The whole article can be found here:

  25. This is what's wrong with the system says:

    @Liana G

    What about the kids who can’t get the ball in the hole? What about when one kid gets a hole-in-one and another takes five strokes? If you want to play the “demoralizing/self-esteem card”, remember that can be applied to every activity.

    I wonder how many people really have psychological problems because they lost a game of dodgeball in PE. Dodgeball is taking the blame for bullying. As someone who was bullied, the bullies didn’t need dodgeball. They did it in basketball or football. They did it verbally in class.

    I’ve coached kids playing dodgeball. Believe it or not, the majority of kids ENJOYED it. Now I will say, we played with soft, spongy balls, not the red rubber ones.

  26. Jim Guines says:

    After reading all the potential problems and no nos’ I still support the principal’s idea and research. He is the one who will make it work just like he worked to mske his school an “A” school. I still support him on this call.

  27. Liana G says:

    Jenn, thank you for the info.

    @this is what is wrong with the system

    ‘can’t’ – a coach should never use the word can’t. What about ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ and ‘practice makes perfect’ and all the other great phrases about personal motivation and putting forth the effort. ‘Cognitive Development’ is about developing the brain to think critically and analyitically through focus, determination, concentration, process of elimination, and thinking outside the box. A can’t do attitude is not what we want to be teaching our future leaders and decision makers and protectors of our country.

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