Newark students create new community play spaces (NJ)

Newark, NJ: Uninviting, barren asphalt lots throughout Newark are taking on new life as these spaces are filled with trees and benches, basketball courts, running tracks, swings and jungle gyms-and, of course, children who are eager to play in these new playgrounds.

The transformation of these sites is part of the Trust for Public Land’s citywide initiative to develop safe, inviting places for community gathering and recreation. Today, students, faculty, staff and guests gathered to dedicate the newest of these community playgrounds at the Quitman Street Community School and the William H. Brown Academy, the fourth and fifth such sites to be developed throughout the city.

“Children in Newark do not have enough play spaces that are both safe and engaging,” said Rose Harvey, Senior Vice President of the Trust for Public Land. “Through the Newark Playground Program, we are committed to changing that.”

Launched by the Trust for Public Land in 1995 in partnership with Newark Public Schools and The Prudential Foundation, the Newark Playground Program develops new community playgrounds in neighborhoods under-served by parks and recreation areas. Since the program’s inception, more than $1.7 million has been invested at five playgrounds throughout Newark. In addition to the two newest playgrounds, the St. Columba School (East Ward), Maple Avenue School (South Ward) and Louise A. Spencer School (Central Ward) have all participated in the mission to create safe play spaces for their communities.

“The Newark Playground Program is a model program for our children to learn about space, architecture and mathematics. This program allows students, their parents and the entire school family to become partners in the development of the school community,” said Marion Bolden, State District Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools. “We would love to see more partnerships like this one throughout the city.”

At each school, students were directly involved in designing the playground-from surveying their schoolyards and studying drainage patterns, to building scale models of the playgrounds to test different development alternatives.

“By applying subjects like math and environmental education to a real life situation, students are better able to connect their learning with their communities,” said Liz Jackson, TPL’s site coordinator for the Newark Playground Program.

Jackson met with student design teams of approximately 12 students at each school once or twice a week. While working with the students to develop workable designs for their new playgrounds, she also integrated these new skills with classroom studies and standard curricula.

“As a result of the work with TPL, our students have gained new insight into growing plants, the value of trees, and some of the benefits that plants have for our environment. Since we have been involved with this project, a committee of students and parents have been consistently working from the beginning helping to design, identify the space and do follow up in creating the model,” said Dr. Campbell, principal of the William H. Brown Academy.

“Students have fun doing these projects, but they also apply their existing knowledge and develop new skills in math, reading, observation and problem-solving,” said Jackson. “Each time we work on a new playground, the result is not only a better-looking site, but a new generation of people who know how to work together toward a common goal that also enhances their communities.”

While the playgrounds are a definite benefit to the students at these schools, they are also tremendous assets to the surrounding communities. The Newark Playground Program strives to not only create spaces that meet the specific needs of each community, but also to ensure the long term vitality of these playgrounds by helping the community coordinate programs.

“It is our hope that the playground can become a bridge between the school and the community,” said Louis Mattina, principal of the Quitman Street School. “When children are not given the opportunity to play, they forget how, and resort to other, less productive methods of filling their time. Development of these spaces can have a big influence teaching today’s children the often overlooked, but very important skills and lessons of play.”

The Newark Playground Program is made possible by private funding from (a consortium) of corporate and foundation donors. Major funding has been provided by The Prudential foundation, which has supported the program since its inception.

“Prudential is proud to be a partner with the Trust for Public Land and Newark Public Schools in bringing these new playgrounds to two more communities in Newark,” said Lata Reddy, program officer for The Prudential Foundation.

Construction is currently being done to expand the Maple Avenue School Playground, which TPL opened in 1998. The addition will expand the play area and adds a formal play structure to the space. Each of the playgrounds developed through the Newark Playground Program receives ongoing support from TPL to encourage diversified use by the schools and surrounding communities.

The Trust for Public Land’s efforts to protect and enhance open space in urban areas is not limited to Newark. Through TPL’s Green Cities Initiative, the organization has protected land and developed programs in more than 30 urban areas across the country. Projects range from the redevelopment of former industrial sites to the creation of greenway trails linking city neighborhoods.

“We work to protect open space and create new recreational and cultural resources for public use in urban areas. That goal is met through a wide variety of urban programs,” said Andy Stone, TPL’s Director of Urban Programs.

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that protects and enhances open space for the public’s use and enjoyment. With its state office in Morristown, TPL has preserved over one million acres of land nationwide, including almost 11,000 acres in New Jersey.

The Prudential Foundation is a part of Prudential Community Resources, a powerful combination of three units: The Foundation; the Social Investments Program, which originates and manages socially beneficial investments for Prudential; and Local Initiatives, which coordinates employee volunteerism and forms partnerships with to help solve problems.