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UMB's Promise Heights Partners Obtain Donated Playground, Assist in Construction

Children without a playground in their impoverished neighborhood have become beneficiaries of a lesson in the power of partnerships.

Leaders of Promise Heights, a University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) initiative led by the School of Social Work (SSW), started the process with a graduate student's application to improve the youngsters' fitness.

What resulted was no ordinary tot lot. Baltimore-based Laureate Education, Inc., donated and constructed a state-of-the-art playground to serve an elementary school and its Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood, which is less than a mile from UMB.

On June 6, when students at the Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School (HSCT) went home for the weekend, they got a last glance at an unadorned field that had been their only outdoors outlet for decades. On Monday, one look promised much more as lumber and parts awaited assembly under the direction of play space expert KaBOOM! On Tuesday, the field was teaming with hundreds of Laureate-led volunteers assisted by co-builders from UMB, HSCT, and the local community. (See a photo gallery. )

By 6:45 p.m. on June 10, it was time for a ribbon-cutting as volunteers were joined by dignitaries including Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, JD '81, and Bernard "Jack" Young, president of the Baltimore City Council. On hand were SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW; Bronwyn Mayden, MSW, Promise Heights executive director and SSW assistant dean; Rachel Donegan, JD, Promise Heights program director; and Kevin Enright, executive director of strategic initiatives, School of Medicine (SOM).

Speakers included HSCT's principal, Harold Barber, EdD; the school's assistant principal, Twanda Pickett; and Laureate's founder and chief executive officer, Douglas Becker, shown in the photo wearing orange and poised to cut the ribbon.

3 from SSW

Becker addressed a crowd of about 400 men, women, and a few children, most of whom wore "Here for Good" T-shirts from Laureate. "It's a great honor to give back to the community that has given me -- and Laureate Education -- so much," said Becker, a Baltimore native. "We are committed to doing work that is here for good in every community in which we operate."

Laureate provides undergraduate, graduate, and working-adult education through online and campus-based programs in 29 countries. Nearly 300 of its executives from around the world came together to build the playground, arriving on buses that lined up outside the school at 507 W. Preston St.

HSCT's principal told the crowd of volunteers that the elementary school "is the center of this community." Barber said the new playground "will help foster that sense of community that we cherish."

HSCT draws more than 400 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade from Upton/Druid Heights, where about half of the families live in poverty, according to Baltimore City Health Department data. Through a Promise Neighborhoods federal planning grant, the SSW-led Promise Heights initiative works to empower residents and improve the lives of children from before birth to age 21.

HSCT is one of two public schools in Upton/Druid Heights that is a Community School, partnering with SSW in many ways. The SSW's Community School coordinator at HSCT, Henriette Taylor, MSW, prepared for "Build Day" with the assistance of Promise Heights interns Amanda Malone and Britney Pitts. Pitts drafted much of the successful grant proposal. Malone is shown with Barth and Mayden in the photo (courtesy of Laureate Education, Inc.).

3 from SSW

3 from SSW

It was at an Upton community planning meeting in the spring when Mayden put out a call for local volunteers. In turn, Joyce Green, a neighborhood liaison to the Central District of the Baltimore Police Department, contacted Capt. Mark Mason. BPD sent 21 trainees, who spread 110 cubic yards of mulch. Members of the BPD contingent are shown in the photo above (courtesy of Laureate Education, Inc.).

"They were so happy to help out the HSCT, the students, Promise Heights, and the community," says Green, an Upton resident. "It was awesome. In a little over six hours, 300-plus people turned an open green space into a safe place for kids in the community and at the school to play."

"This Build Day is a perfect example of what our Community Schools program does in Baltimore," says Barth. "We bring in resources and give other people the privilege and joy of contributing to the success of the schools that we support."

HSCT parents were a big presence, led by Mark Atkinson and Lakisha Bagwell, who had canvassed families to widen participation. Residents of the nearby McCulloh Homes and GreenWillow apartments came to help.

From UMB, Ebenezer Oloyede, MD, MPH, clinical research specialist at the School of Pharmacy , treated volunteers' scrapes and cuts in a tent for builders needing a break. SOM's Vanessa Carroll, director of special projects, assisted. SOM assistant professor Yvette Rooks, MD, pitched in by donating lunches for 200 people and 450 kids' gift bags with health-related items.

Members of Union Baptist Church, a faith-based partner of Promise Heights, turned out on several days. Volunteers included Senior Pastor Alvin Hathaway, DMin,PhD. On June 11, he and church member Carol Jones, shown below, returned to watch recess.

HSCT students approached in turn by grade level, many squealing and leaping while others came to a standstill, gasping in awe. Next they were given the rules. Children sat at newly installed picnic tables while listening to safety instructions, but they had eyes only for the playground.

"One person to a slide, no flips from the swings," lectured a physical education instructor. At last cleared to play, children flew onto the shiny equipment. They lined up to whoosh down slides, and a child in a white shirt (below right) was one of the first to venture onto a zip line. Young and old alike soared on swings that they never had before.

Barth went back to the playground on Saturday, taking his granddaughter. He says they found the chalkboard at the outdoor classroom well covered with children's handwriting and nearly 50 children swinging, sliding, and climbing. "The playground was bubbling with joy and hope."

CJ&AH3 from SSW
Posting Date: 06/20/2014
Contact Name: Patricia Fanning
Contact Phone: 410-706-7946
Contact Email: pfanning@umaryland.edu