Schoolyard dreams take root at Hackett

Vo­lun­teers des­cen­ded on Hack­ett Ele­ment­ary Schoo last week­end for a clean-up and re­design of the school and its yard.

Stu­dents from Hack­ett Ele­ment­ary School par­ti­cip­ate along­side an adult vo­lun­teer dur­ing a renov­a­tion and re­design of their school­yard last week­end. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

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 friend­sof­hack­

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