As recently as a few months ago, students at Daniel J. Corkery Elementary School could play soccer, but they had to contend with errant gravel causing slippage and a dangerous metal band that was a major tripping hazard.
But with the recent opening of their new Space to Grow schoolyard, students at Corkery now have a beautiful new soccer field—with no hazards. “The soccer field was desperately needed in the community,” says Carol Devens-Falk, principal at Corkery.
Space to Grow is co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands. Capital funding and expertise comes from Chicago Public Schools, 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.
Corkery is one of three new schoolyards constructed this fall. Students, parents, school staff and community members all had a chance to help design the new schoolyard. Devens-Falk said that in addition to making sure the elements of the schoolyard meet the needs of the community, the process also gives the community a sense of ownership. “One of the things that makes me very happy is that I see families that are coming and are hanging out after school with their children,” she says.
One of those families was in attendance at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Nov. 10, 2016. Soffia and her three kids—in kindergarten, 4th grade and 5th grade at Corkery—live just three blocks away. They used to come to the playground, she says, but parts were loose and falling off. Her youngest daughter absolutely loves the new slide and the soft, absorbent play surface, she says.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, a 3rd-grade class performed a song that featured students singing “hello” in various languages—another way to show that everyone is welcome, as the schoolyard remains open to the community after school hours. The Corkery cheerleaders also performed before students were able to run and play on the new playground and soccer field after the ceremony. “This is a place where all of our students can be active and play,” Devens-Falk said. “We also have a new garden that is already full of vegetables ready to eat.”
We can’t wait to see the great things that come out of Corkery’s schoolyard in the future. We are incredibly grateful to Principal Devens-Falk, Assistant Principal Alexis Gonzales, the Corkery teachers, staff and students, and local residents and community partners for taking this journey. And a special thanks to IMC Charitable Foundation for their continued generosity and support of this school and community.