(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
A school yard once full of cracked concrete, a broken basketball hoop, and asphalt that scraped many knees has been transformed.
Officials with the city of Boston, the Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Schoolyard Initiative were at the Higginson-Lewis K-8 School in Roxbury Wednesday to cut the ribbon on the facility’s new school yard and celebrate a program that in its 18-year run has redeveloped 88 school yards at BPS facilities.
“It’s important that there is a place for the kids to play and connect with the neighborhood,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino told program supporters Wednesday, with the new jungle gym in the background. “We have great students we just have to encourage them.”
An estimated $378,000 was spent rehabbing the school’s playground and outside facilities as part of the program, a private-public partnership founded in 1995. In addition to the new jungle gym, monkey bars, basketball hoop, and hopscotch area improvements also included the construction of an outdoor classroom, which gives teachers a place to tie their curriculum to healthy eating, urban gardening, and nature.
“These things are essential to our students leaning, achieving, and taking part in physical exercise,” said Joy Oliver, the principal of the school. “We’re a city school and our students don’t always get the opportunity to go outside as often as they should and this provides that opportunity.”
In 2009 the Lewis Middle School was merged with the Higginson School to create the K-8 facility. Now with close to 400 students, ranging in age from three to 14, the school and its exceptional students have a playground that reflects all the hard work that has gone into the school.
“The excitement on the students’ faces when they opened it was awesome,” said Oliver. “We hope this brings a sense of the world to our students and allows them to put their hands in the dirt and explore.”
Although parents, teachers, and supporters can tell you how important safe play equipment is or how urban gardening is a critical part of students' education, it’s the students climbing on the monkey bars or playing four-square who really can explain how exciting the improvements are.
“I like the seesaw even though I’m a little too big for it,” explained Ailene Cruz, an eighth-grader at the school and Dorchester resident. “It’s a huge change for the school. Before we only had a track and basketball court, so this is a big difference.”
Francisca Barros, an eighth-grader at the school and Roxbury resident, said although she is older and will be moving onto high school next year, the improvements are important for the school’s younger students.
“Before it was just really for the older kids,” said Barros. “There wasn’t anything for the younger kids, so this is great.”
Wednesday’s ribbon cutting was a major milestone for the school, its students, and administrators, but it was also a celebration for the Boston Schoolyard Initiative, which has touched almost every K-8 school in the city.
“There are a lot of children who are not as healthy as they can be and this is about providing those places and supporting BPS curriculum,” explained Myrna Johnson, executive director of the initiative.
In its 18-year history, the program, which receives funds from the city as well as non-profit and corporate sponsors, has constructed 32 outdoor classrooms, reached over 30,000 children annually, redeveloped 25-acres of asphalt, and planted 200 trees at BPS facilities.
The numbers show that the Boston Schoolyard Initiative has made its mark, but it’s the students that can tell you best what the playground means to them.
“The whole school is a gazillion times better,” exclaimed third-grade students during a presentation at Wednesday’s ceremony.