This summer, the New Albany-Plain Local School District will embark on a project to give students in grades 1 to 8 a better place to play.

Parts of the playground used by primary, intermediate and middle school students are more than 20 years old, said Superintendent Michael Sawyers. The district is planning to refurbish it for approximately $1.5 million, he said.

The playground, which is used by more than 3,000 students daily, is expected to reopen in August for the start of the new school year, Sawyers said.

Much research has been completed on the importance of a "brain break" and play during the school day, said Donna LeBeau, principal of New Albany Middle School.

With many of the elements on the playground approaching 20 years in age, it is essential that the district reinforce safety and introduce students to some modernized equipment that is accessible to all, said Teresa Smith, principal of New Albany Primary School.

Play, movement and recess are important parts of a student's day, said Katie Nowak, principal of New Albany Intermediate School.

"They allow for an important break, as well as engage students in peer interactions that help develop their social skills," she said. "Recess and physical play promote social and emotional learning, and the new playground equipment is designed in such a way that promotes cooperative play."

The playground is one project in a series of initiatives the district will work on next year, covering the school campus, student well-being and curriculum.

During 2020 and 2021, the district will receive $400,000 in student-success funding from the state, and the money will go toward well-being initiatives, Sawyers said. This year, the district will use funds to begin expanding student-support services and will hire two employees, either child therapists or behavioral specialists -- people trained to address social and emotional needs of students, he said.

The district will contract with either Concord Counseling Services or Ohio State University to hire those employees, he said. He said he hopes to hire the two individuals early in the year.

The district will invest part of the money on well-being community liaison Diane Herman, who was hired Nov. 1 for up to $10,000 each year for monthly services, Sawyers said.

"If a student's mental and physical health is not well, it's hard for them to focus on academic achievement, growth and learning," he said.

In addition to promoting the emotional well-being of students, this year's initiatives include strengthening student academics.

The district will work to understand revised standards the Ohio Department of Education is releasing for science and social studies to be implemented for the 2020-21 school year, Sawyers said.

The district also will work to expand career pathways offered at the high school to help students who want a more direct path to a career after graduating, he said.

Beginning in August, the district will begin offering cybersecurity education classes, Sawyers said. The education will come from a satellite program from Eastland Fairfield Career & Technical Schools, but students will be able to attend classes on the New Albany-Plain Local campus, he said. The coursework will help students earn an associate's degree or industry-based credential prior to or in addition to graduating from high school, Sawyers said.

The district also is talking to other potential partners to work on implementing information-technology or medical pathways in the 2021-22 school year, Sawyers said.

"It's no longer just about college," he said.