Education through Ecological Restoration – Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture

ALBA Elementary’s playground: “A dream come true”

Educators from ALBA Elementary in Milwaukee share the story of their schoolyard:

The new ALBA School playground can only be described as dream come true.  ALBA Elementary School is a bilingual fine arts school with a focus on Latino traditions and culture. Although ALBA offers families a successful quality bilingual education, a basic element of student life was missing: a fun and engaging playground. The playground was a huge asphalt sea with cracks inches deep, wide enough for an adult foot to become lodged, and spanning the length of the playground.

Asphalt removal during playground renovationOur partnership with Latino Earth Partnership (LEP) opened our eyes to the many possibilities of how to accomplish this dream with the community help. A team of teachers went for a LEP summer institute at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee. They created a plan and started working with classrooms to go into the garden and engage the students with the raised garden beds. Our English as Second Language teachers taught many science based lessons that engaged classes in garden planting in early spring. Following a schedule, various classrooms visited the garden and harvested or cleaned the garden. This inspired others to work in the garden, and really demonstrated the need for students to have greater access to green space. We wanted a bigger, grass-filled fun space for the students that provided natural elements, like a park.

Rain garden, in process of being planted with native plantsThe benefits of this playground redesign are wonderful. Tardiness to school decreased as children are eager to get to school to play before the entry bell rings. Families and community partners donated more than 300 plants for students to plant in the rain garden. The two tot lots offer play structures for both early childhood and primary grades students. This area has a soft permeable landing made out of recycled materials to cushion any falls. The students enjoy all the shapes and sizes of slides and climbers on the tot lot. To reflect the school’s fine arts specialty we incorporated drumming and xylophone panels into the play areas. Cultural symbols representing the students’ home culture were added into the painting designs. There are Taino/Arawak glyphs of the coqui frog, suns and snails. Mayan numbers and an Aztec sun are also painted on the playground. The biggest joy for the students is the soccer field. We are still waiting for the sod to go dormant to play on the field, but I know the moment the fence is taken down, the excitement in the whole school will burst through the door at every recess period and soccer team practice.

Children standing on asphalt playground decorated with colorful symbolsStaff and families decided to “start where they are at, use what they had, and do what they can” as the necessary financial and other resources were sought from the community, the City Forestry Department and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District. Through determination and creativity, the parents and school staff worked to make this need a reality. And thank you to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their support of the LEP initiative!

Story courtesy of Radamés Galarza, Brenda Martínez, and Elissa Guarnero; Photos courtesy of Radamés Galarza