New Harlem Playground Celebrated (NYC)

New York, New York, 4/11/06: Students and Harlem residents celebrated the opening of the new P.S. 180/Steven Pabai Memorial Playground today. The park was created through The Trust for Public Land (TPL) City Spaces program and is the first of 25 to be built citywide in partnership with the New York City Department of Education.

The park includes exactly what kids want because they were the designers of this new community space. Students, staff, and community members who participated in the park design process were on hand for the celebration.

The new park is a $1 million investment in the community, one-third of which was covered by private philanthropy from MetLife Foundation and the Charles Hayden Foundation, both longtime funders of City Spaces. The remainder came from matching funds from the Department of Education.

“I was truly inspired by this team of fifth graders, who worked so hard to bring this playground to their school and their community,” said Mary Alice Lee, director of TPL’s City Spaces program. “Because of this public-private partnership and our generous funders, we look forward to building 25 of these playgrounds throughout the city.”

The playground, formerly a cracked asphalt lot, now includes a basketball court, track, synthetic turf field, climbing equipment, game tables, bleachers, and a play spray. The new park will serve the school’s 460 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students as well as children and families in the surrounding community.

The playground is named for Steven Pabai, a fourth grade student at P.S. 180 whose life was cut short by leukemia in December 2002. His colleagues thought it a fitting tribute to name their new playground after him.

“I see the Steven Pabai Memorial Playground as another integral component of our schools’ evolving mission of providing seamless social, emotional, academic and ethical development in our school community,” said Dr. Peter L. McFarlane, principal of P.S. 180, The Hugo Newman College Preparatory School.

The playground is another outward sign of the renaissance taking place at the school and in Harlem. Dr. McFarlane has been lauded near and far for turning things around at the school, which, less than a decade ago, was at the bottom of national exam scores. In 1999, no student from P.S. 180 passed the standardized reading tests, and only 14 percent passed the math exam. By 2003, more than 40 percent of fourth and fifth grade students scored three or four (out of four) on reading tests, and more than 50 percent of those tested achieved the same scores on the math test.

A banner that reads, “Where excellence in education is our only choice,” meets all who enter the school. The school motto has been taken to heart by Dr. McFarlane, his staff, and the students, who now visit colleges as part of their curriculum.

The involvement of the students in the design-central to The Trust for Public Land’s program-fits seamlessly with Dr. McFarlane’s commitment to involve students in every aspect of the school-from designing facilities to patrolling hallways.

Students from P.S. 180 met regularly with TPL staff members and professional designers and architects to design the playground. They surveyed community members and visited other sites to develop a plan.

In November 2004, TPL and the New York City Department of Education announced a partnership to build 25 playgrounds on school properties by 2010. The $25 million initiative will focus on high-density, low-income neighborhoods. Through their City Spaces program, The Trust for Public Land has built 13 community playgrounds in city neighborhoods underserved by the traditional parks system.

MetLife Foundation, the original supporter of TPL’s City Spaces Program in New York City, has contributed $2 million to support TPL’s open space work in nine cities nationwide.

“Playgrounds contribute to young people’s healthy development and improve the overall quality of community life,” said Sibyl Jacobson, president of MetLife Foundation. “We are pleased join TPL, the Department of Education and the Charles Hayden Foundation in creating this new resource for the students of P.S. 180 and the Harlem community.”

MetLife Foundation, established by MetLife in 1976, supports health, education, civic, and cultural programs throughout the United States. For more information about the Foundation, visit

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in our communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations. City Spaces targets New York City neighborhoods least served by the current park system. TPL has created or enhanced more than 250 neighborhood parks in New York City, investing roughly $200 million in land purchases and in the design, construction, and stewardship of parks. For more information, visit