Community Launches Campaign to Transform Lafayette Street School Playground

Poised for transformation, a Newark school playground finally moves forward

October 27, 2015
Newark, NJ

The Trust for Public Land, Newark Public Schools, and the Lafayette Street School community announced their partnership and plans to transform the Lafayette Street School playground with the launch of an ambitious community campaign. The announcement was made during a press conference held today at the school.

Despite the school being located in a residential neighborhood, the school and surrounding blocks lack outdoor recreation spaces where students can safely play.  The situation at Lafayette Street School reflects a larger, problem across Newark: there is simply not enough access to public play spaces.  With this partnership in place, the Lafayette Street School Playground is now poised for transformation.

The school's interest in developing a new playground began several years ago, and has been bolstered by parents, who have advocated for the schoolyard to serve as a place dedicated for student play and learning. The Newark Public Schools District, parents and community are united in their commitment to transform the area into a vibrant space that will promote healthy growth and development of their children.

Newark Councilman Augusto Amador and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, a Lafayette School alumnus, were among the many local leaders who have called attention to the need for a healthy play space for the students. School administrators, teachers, alumni and families from the Lafayette Street School community have also taken up the cause and are eagerly spearheading a drive to fund the playground.

“The Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People Program has a long history of working with community partners to develop safe, inviting, learning-rich schoolyards throughout Newark. We now have an opportunity to bring our community-driven design and development process to the Ironbound neighborhood in Newark’s East Ward,” said Scott Dvorak, director of The Trust for Public Land’s Parks for People-Newark Program.

Today’s announcement officially kicked-off a grassroots community campaign with the goal of raising $250,000 by the fall of 2016. To date, the Lafayette Street School Playground Campaign has received more than $85,000 in gifts and pledges from individuals and foundations. The PSEG Foundation and the Helen and William Mazer Foundation have both made early grants. The Mazer Foundation also awarded a $10,000 Lafayette School Challenge Grant to match online gifts made to the campaign. New donations to the campaign will be matched, doubling the impact of online gifts.

“Newark Public Schools is eager to work with our community partners to design and develop a vibrant new playground for Lafayette Street School,” said Christopher Cerf, Superintendent of Newark Public Schools. “The district is committed to creating a positive learning and recreational space that promotes healthy growth and development for Newark’s school children. We are grateful to The Trust for Public Land for their hard work and support to make this vision a reality."

Local alumni and families from Lafayette Street School have already joined the campaign, including David Puente, to honor the memory of his brother, Leo Puente, a graduate of the school who was passionate about his community, sports, education and serving as a mentor to students in Newark. The family and friends of local businessman Ed Cruz are also actively involved, as they celebrate his remarkable life through gifts in his memory to support the Lafayette Street School project. Both families were motivated by a strong commitment to give back to the larger community.

In January 2016, The Trust for Public Land will begin its participatory design process with the school’s students, teachers, parents and neighborhood residents to hear their ideas to develop a conceptual design for the new schoolyard. Over 4,500 children age nineteen and younger live within a 10-minute walk (or ½ mile) of Lafayette Street Elementary School. Once complete, the new playground will be open to the larger community from dawn to dusk on the weekends, thanks to public funding for the project that is coming from the New Jersey Green Acres Program.

Since 1995, The Trust for Public Land has worked to create park equity in Newark’s most vulnerable communities through our Parks for People program. The goal of our Parks for People initiative is to ensure that everyone has access to a quality park within a half-mile—or a ten-minute walk—of home. To date, the Parks for People—Newark program has developed twelve parks and schoolyards in Newark’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, with over 90,000 adults and children benefiting from a Trust for Public Land park within a ten-minute walk from home.

Contact:

Jessica Ingram-Bellamy, The Trust for Public Land, 212-574-6851, Jesscia.ingram-bellamy@tpl.org
Dreena Whitfield, Newark Public Schools, 908-209-2314, dwhitfield@nps.k12.nj.us