Schaumburg Park District involves Hale students in planning the redesign of park next door
The installation of the Schaumburg Park District's new playground at Falk Park adjacent to Hale Elementary School this summer will be especially exciting for Hale students -- because they have been involved in the planning.
When the park district told Hale Principal Brian Kaszewicz last fall that the playground was slated for replacement in summer 2019, Kaszewicz asked if Hale students could be involved. He told park district staff that District 54 students are participating in project-based learning to foster the skills of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking and that this would be a powerful opportunity for them to make real-world connections.
"We wanted students to be invested in the work and connected to the whole process -- to see the different jobs associated with the playground and the layers that go into making something like this happen," Kaszewicz said.
The park district met with Kaszewicz and Hale Literacy Coach Jenny Clark several times to discuss plans and options for the design of the playground. Park district staff also provided resources for students and staff to further the project-based learning opportunity, such as equipment catalogs, budget information and safety regulations and guidelines.
"Anytime we can get the kids involved in this type of project, it's a good learning experience for them," said Todd King, Superintendent of Parks and Planning for the Schaumburg Park District. "It's very practical and hands-on, and it's something they'll remember for a long time."
Clark said the project-based learning opportunity -- to ensure the new playground would best meet the needs of all Hale students -- was revealed during an all-school assembly in February.
Kindergarten students had written persuasive letters to Kaszewicz stating why they thought the playground should be replaced. Although the playground had already been slated for replacement, at the start of the assembly, Kaszewicz announced that the kindergartners had convinced him, and that Hale School would be participating in the playground redesign.
Teachers have incorporated the playground project-based learning lessons in a variety of ways based on the needs and interests of their students, Clark said.
For example, kindergarten students created and participated in a survey about their favorite playground equipment and talked about what they would like to see added. After discussing how they could bring in other voices, the students surveyed first- and second-graders about what color they would like to see on the playground. They incorporated all of this information when working in groups to draw blueprints for the new playground.
"One person draws, and one person writes, and one person labels," said Kriya, a kindergarten student. "It makes me happy to get to draw, color and write."
Kindergarten students also connected with the work in other subject areas, including social studies and math.
"When the kindergartners see that they had a part in designing the playground and that the park district let us have some say, it's going to make them feel important," kindergarten teacher Alyssa Molaro said. "They will see that the work they do in school really does matter, and it has meaning."
First- and second-grade classes will write opinion pieces about which of three pieces of equipment they would most like to see installed on the new playground. They also took a survey, and tallied which pieces of equipment students in other grade levels use the most.
"I think it was a really good idea because then we could know which one they did the most, and which ones they didn't really go on," said Laila, a second-grade student. "We would know which ones they liked, and which ones they didn't like."
Third- and fourth-grade students surveyed students about what equipment they enjoy using and what they would want to see on the new playground. They also partnered with students in the special education classes at Hale to determine which equipment they enjoy and use most, then discussed accommodations that would make it a better experience for students with disabilities.
"The third- and fourth-grade students observed that the students (in special education classes) didn't play as much on the playground, and we want to incorporate more elements that appeal to them," said third- and fourth-grade teacher Kaitlyn Netzel. "A lot of rich conversation about accommodations stemmed from that."
Fifth- and sixth-grade students discussed the history of playgrounds and compared older and newer playgrounds, including elements of safety and inclusion. They then examined the Hale playground based on regulations and guidelines the park district had shared. The students looked at factors such as the width and depth of the protective surface around the equipment, the safety of individual pieces of equipment and the distance between pieces of equipment, said Garrick, a sixth-grade student.
"I didn't know the swings had to be a certain amount of space away from other equipment so it would be safe," said Milena, a fifth-grade student. "We want to make sure that the playground will be safe."
As a final project, the fifth- and sixth-grade students will create and present a public service announcement, safety expectations video, website, or 3D design and explanation.
Clark said this project-based learning challenge provided a unique opportunity for Hale students.
"We're providing them skills to look at the world in a different way," she said. "Most kids have seen a new playground and been excited for the new playground. Our kids are going to see it and be excited about specific pieces of equipment, colors, safety features, accommodations and other aspects. They're not just going to have a different appreciation for Falk Park - they're going to be able to look at any park and recognize these things."
Kelly Collins, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, said it is wonderful to have a project-based learning opportunity that benefits the school and community.
"The fact that the whole school can be part of this is pretty amazing," she said. "Even though the sixth-graders aren't going to be here next year, this is something they can take with them."
The learning can continue once the playground has been built, as well, Kaszewicz said.
"It will be a great opportunity to have that real-world application so close to us," he said. "There have been so many different opportunities that presented themselves as we went along, and it's been fun to see the teachers find those teachable moments and adapt the problem to what the students are coming up with."
The old playground will get a new life, as well, Kaszewicz noted. The park district will donate the equipment to a company that will refurbish and install it in an area of need, and the park district will share with Hale any thank-you letters they receive.