New Playground Could Become Cooper-Young Rallying Point

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

COMMUNITY PROPERTY: Peabody Elementary School is slated to become the site of a community playground March 20. -- Photos By Jonathan Devin

Peabody Elementary School and the Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA) began 2008 united in what school administrators and neighborhood leaders hope will become a positive partnership through the simple act of play.

The fruit of their combined effort will be a new custom-designed playground on Peabody's property at 2086 Young Ave. in the heart of Midtown's Cooper-Young Historic District.

Unlike most school venues, though, this playground will be open to the public.

To be built in a single day March 20, the playground is one of thousands going up across the country through the facilitation and production management of KaBOOM, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reinstating the act of play in the lives of children.

Founded in 1996 by current CEO Darrell Hammond and his wife, Dawn, KaBOOM operates on the premise that every child will someday have a safe place to play within walking distance of home. The organization also provides Physical Education for Progress (PEP) grants to strengthen K-12 physical education programs.

Last-minute marathon

Debbie Sowell, acting president of CYCA, said her group learned about the opportunity just four days before the application deadline. She sped through a community discussion process in which the CYCA agreed to front as much as $10,000 for the project.

In January she learned that the application had been accepted.

"We wanted to create a relationship to show that Peabody is a good school," she said. "This is a show of support."

Sowell credited Cooper-Young resident and Peabody Leadership Board member Mandy Grisham with facilitating discussions with school officials to bring them on board.

Funding partner Home Depot will provide about $35,000 and more than 100 volunteers to construct the site, Sowell said. Memphis City Schools and Peabody principal Kongsouly Jones have already cleared the playground site and provided soil testing, electricity checks and storage for tools and equipment. Tools and supplies have been borrowed from the Memphis City Beautiful Commission, Hands On Memphis and neighbors in Cooper-Young.

Symbols and society

The playground itself will be a product of discussions with community and school leaders as well as Peabody students. Playground World Systems, a KaBOOM partner, provided three possible designs based on the focus group's choices.

Both Jones and Sowell agree that strengthening the relationship between Peabody and the neighborhood is as relevant as its playful mission.

"As a parent, I would love to be able to walk my son to the school every day and have him play with children he knows," Sowell said.

She noted that many of Peabody's students live outside of Cooper-Young but attend the school through its popular optional program. Now neighborhood children will have a chance to meet and play regularly with Peabody students.

Jones said a stronger relationship with Cooper-Young is another tool for strong school security.

"When the community takes ownership of its school, the school becomes protected by it. We know they will be looking out for the school," she said.

Jones is in her second year as Peabody's principal. Previously she served four years as principal of Whitney Elementary in Frayser.

Plans for development of the site will continue after the initial construction day.

Maggie Cardwell, CYCA's community director, said the neighborhood and the school have plans to create such additions as an outdoor classroom and a garden. Also, a pathway of engraved bricks will circle the playground bearing the names of project donors.

Cardwell projected that work on the additions will take place during the summer months and said a chili cook-off fundraiser has been slated for later this spring to support it.

Jones said that she looks forward to seeing learning taking place outside of the school building as well as inside it.

"This playground will be a symbol of everyone's commitment to a community partnership of learning," she said.