Students at Horatio B. Hackett Elementary School were recently invited to draw pictures of what they want their schoolyard to look like.
Their visions included a fireman’s pole, a rollercoaster and “a slide that goes around the world,” as one teacher described it.
It sounds impossible.
But with the show of support Hackett received last weekend, maybe the kids at Hackett elieve that anything is possible.
On Saturday, Sept. 28, more than 125 volunteers, including teachers and students, showed up to help clean and renovate the schoolyard at Hackett, which lies at the border of Fishtown and Kensington, at 2161 E. York St.
“This school is so rooted — a lot of my teachers live around here, some of them went here,” said Hackett principal Randi Davila-Klein as she gazed out at a team of volunteers working around her school’s blacktop on Saturday. “We always say Hackett is the best kept secret in Philadelphia.”
Organized by the year-old Friends of Hackett group, this event brought together students, teachers, parents, members of the Home and School Association and some neighbors just dropping by to help.
One of the school’s recent graduates who got his hands dirty picking up trash, painting, and helping replant the school’s yard was Alex Plante, 14.
“It’s great just knowing that you’re helping the community,” Plante said about why he came back to his old school on Saturday.
Another former Hackett student — and current teacher — who was pitching in on Saturday was Denise Garrett.
“Hopefully our neighbors will come, and will respect it,” said Garrett, who has taught at Hackett for 26 years, of the school’s new green space, which was completely re-landscaped on Saturday. “This is a safe haven for kids.”
Through the Delaware Valley Green Buildings Council’s (DVGBC) “Green Apple Day of Service,” Hackett got another 50 helpers: the Villanova University lacrosse team.
DVGBC also brought the co-chair of their Bucks and Montgomery counties branch, Hermann Moser, owner of Land Stewards, an ecological landscape design firm. Moser came to the neighborhood to help build what is known as an “outdoor classroom.”
“They expressed an interest in creating a space for kids to read and chat if they want to not be involved in sports activities, and to create a more hospitable environment than the blacktop to sit,” Moser said. “We’re using an exclusively native plant palette, so teachers can use that space for experiential learning and other, more structured class activities.”
Over the course of the day, the exterior of Hackett was re-painted where it needed touching up, litter got cleared, and in the school’s green strip facing York Street, new plants were placed and large flat stones for kids to sit on were brought in.
“It definitely needed sprucing up. It will give the kids a better outlook,” said Estella Bathay, a classroom assistant at Hackett.
“I think it will give them pride for their school and encourage them to take care of their school,” said Catherine Peak, a neighbor who volunteers her time at Hackett.
“It’s been a great day,” said Allison Dean, president of the Friends of Hackett board. “I’m just grateful that we have the support from Hackett to do this.”
But this day of service was only the beginning of the planned revitalization for which Hackett students made those wild drawings.
“This is just the first step in the schoolyard revitalization project,” said Lisa Conway, a Friends of Hackett member. “There’s tons of energy and ideas for this.”
Hackett’s schoolyard revitalization will receive support from the Philadelphia Water Department, the School District, the New Kensington Community Development Corporation and the Community Design Collaborative.
A community meeting will be held tonight, Wednesday Oct. 2, at 7 p.m., at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, 2139 E. Cumberland St., to discuss revitalization plans. All are welcome to contribute ideas for how Hackett’s schoolyard can be improved by 2015.
And with the community support that Hackett has, maybe a roller coaster isn’t so impossible, after all. **
For more information on the schoolyard revitalization project, visit friendsofhackett.weebly.com.