Recess at 800 Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn where three schools are co-located in the same building, was not always so inspiring. The bell would ring and hundreds of kids would flood outside; chatty teens from M.S. 267 Math, Science & Technology and Bedford-Stuyvesant Collegiate mixing with excited first and second graders from La Cima Elementary Charter School. Friends would cluster, basketballs and jump ropes would emerge… the barren stretch of pavement would start to come to life.
The teachers and kids at 800 Gates Avenue wished for a real playground instead of a bare concrete schoolyard. And in 2012, all three schools teamed up together with the non-profit KaBOOM! to create and build just that.
The project, from start to finish, was as collaborative as you can get. In February, students from each of the three schools put their dream playgrounds to paper, sketching everything from slides to roller coasters. KaBOOM! used these concepts to create a design for a new playground. By May, kids, teachers, parents and other volunteers hit the pavement of 800 Gates to help build their new play space together.
“The innovative means in which all three academic institutions collaborated to build a playground provides a framework for seamless inspiration for all students,” Patricia King, Principal of M.S. 267, told the press on Build Day. “Together, we will have a healthier, joyful and unified community in which we can all proudly stand by.”
La Cima’s Founder and then Principal Andrea Zayas echoed the same sentiment: “We believe that school isn’t just about students, teachers and lessons. “We believe that ‘school’ is about community. We are so excited that our students are participating in the imagining and creation of this playground. Their drawings are coming to life.”
By fall 2012, Dave Bryson, Direction of Operations at Bed-Stuy Collegiate, has witnessed the effects of both the collaborative building experience, and the transformed school yard.
“I was really impressed with how all the schools participated in the planning process, from the school to the parents,” he says, looking back on the project. “There was a lot of commitment.”
He recalls how La Cima really drove the project forward, but it took everyone’s participating to get it done.
“We were asked — not required — to participate,” says Bryson. “Then, we were expected to collaborate. It was a really positive project to build the community.”
La Cima’s students (K-5) are the youngest student body in the school, and Bryson notes they’ve benefited greatly from the project. But even if some of the kids from M.S. 267 and Bed-Stuy Collegiate may be a little too old to swing from the monkey bars, students and faculty from all three co-located schools benefit from a beautiful, fun and safe playground on their campus; as well as the unforgettable collaborative experience it took to create it.
“Any project that a number of schools participate in, needs to be driven by a value that all groups are going to get invested in the project,” Bryson recommends, “that working together is for the best of all schools and the community.”
Just one glance around the new school yard at 800 Gates will prove it: the power of working together can bring amazing results.