The basketball court at James Wadsworth Elementary School used to be unusable, and the slides in the playground area used to have holes. But now, after a $1.5 million transformation through the Space to Grow program, the schoolyard at Wadsworth is a place for everyone.
8th grader Keonte and his friends use the playground in the older kids’ area as workout equipment, doing pullups on the bar and using the monkey bars to strengthen their arms. And the younger kids’ play area is a big improvement, too, he says. “It’s a big change—if kids don’t have anything else to do, they’re going to get into bad habits,” Keonte says. “If they have the playground, it’s better for everyone.”
The Wadsworth Space to Grow schoolyard officially opened on Nov. 29 at a ribbon cutting ceremony. Space to Grow is co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands. Capital funding and expertise comes from Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Each Space to Grow schoolyard gets a $1.5 million transformation, and every space uses special surfaces and design elements—such as rain gardens and permeable pavers—to capture rainwater and help reduce neighborhood flooding during the heaviest of storms. Wadsworth is one of three new schoolyards constructed this fall.
Principal Dr. Rashid Shabazz spoke at the ribbon cutting about the terrible shape the schoolyard was in before the transformation. When he first arrived, the playground was a “disaster area” and there was glass everywhere. “My babies, they’re going to get hurt,” he recalls thinking and telling everyone who would listen, including CPS’ new Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson in their first meeting.
Because Wadsworth is a STEM school, the students participated in the design process by creating models and drawings for the news schoolyard. It was important to implement as many of those ideas as possible, Shabazz says. “If the students and the community had ownership of the schoolyard, they are protectors for life,” he says.
We can’t wait to see what these protectors for life will make of their schoolyard in the years to come! We are incredibly thankful to Dr. Shabazz, the Wadsworth teachers, staff and students, and local residents and community partners for taking this journey. And many thanks to Alderman Leslie Hairston for her continued support.