Nitia Smith, Amanda Reynolds, Natasha Garrett, Amber Wrinkle and Melissa Garrett took a ride on a reality show schedule a year ago. Their show about PTA moms never made it to TV, but they accomplished their goal--get a new playground at Orangefield Elementary.

The donation from Leftfield Pictures wasn't easy money. "I didn't realize how hard reality is," Nitia said.  "We earned every bit of it," Amber said. The intrusion of production crews into their lives has now provided a bright, functional playground to replace 18-year-old equipment.

"Academics don't happen at the elementary without a great playground," Superintendent Dr. Stephen Patterson said.

Wednesday, the PTA moms joined with school officials plus ambassadors from the Greater Orange Area and Bridge City chambers of commerce for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new playground. Kids coming with parents and grandparents couldn't resist the new equipment. They were soon hanging from monkey rings or soaring on the swing set. Nitia said the teachers requested the swings.

Patterson said the playground exemplifies community involvement in the Orangefield schools. The five families opened their houses and lives to the production crews. Parents, businesses and volunteers worked to install the new equipment in June.

The reality show was a unique way to raise money. They learned at a state PTA meeting that a production company wanted to feature the work of PTA parents in a reality show. They decided to apply because of the promised donation. When the Orangefield Elementary was chosen, they were surprised.

The school district had to agree to the project, too. Then-Superintendent Phillip Welch told KOGT last year that he checked out the production company, which had done a previous reality show on principals at another small Texas school. Leftfield Pictures is a leading producer of reality shows and credits include History’s “Pawn Stars” and “American Restoration.” The “PTA Moms” show was to be sold to the TLC network.

Whole crews followed the five Orangefield women almost every day of the week for weeks. The crews included videographers, sound technicians, monitors and a person listening and writing every line said. The moms grew to like some of the attention. If the crews were following them, someone would get them coffee or food whenever they wanted it.

They also discovered that often they had to do simple actions like getting out of a car more than once for the sake of a good shot. “I think we all got to a point of acting,” Melissa said. The families grew to know their crews. Six full episodes of the show were edited and compiled. But the show didn’t sell. “They (crews) got a call from the production people and then they were gone,” Melissa said.

They joke now that they didn’t become stars. But in their community, they are heroes. Nitia said they got help, especially from other mothers at the school who handled the everyday PTA jobs. “Other people had to step up and do our jobs while we dealt with the cameras,” she said.

The playground isn’t finished in their eyes. They want to put a cover over the playground. The school has $7,000 left of a total $60,000 raised from the production company and other sources. Amber said the cover will cost $20,000. “Know anyone with $13,000?” she asks. The Orangefield PTA moms don’t know where the money will come from, but they do agree that they won’t be doing a reality show again.

-Margaret Toal, KOGT-