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It Takes a Community: New Mural Brightens Play Yard

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The following story was written by Viviane Eng, The Lo-Down’s Summer 2014 intern:

By the time July rolls around, most schools are already deep into their season of long-awaited rest.  The recess sounds of bouncy balls and high-pitched conversation have taken their respective breaks, hallways are vacant, and most students are enjoying their well-deserved few weeks of vacation time.  However, the mood at the 220 Henry St. playground today was indicative of anything but a pause in activity.  In fact, there was an obvious energy that came from something finally being completed through the interaction of involved individuals with the drive to improve the lives of the youngest New Yorkers.

This afternoon students, parents, and neighbors gathered to unveil a double-sided mural, created through a collaboration between the Partnership for a Healthier Manhattan, Xmental, and neighborhood students.  The playground is actually not the property of any one school but instead serves as a play space shared among University Neighborhood Middle School, Castle Middle School, Henry Street School for International Studies and Manhattan Charter School.  Once no more than a dreary fenced area with a handball court, the yard has been transformed through the shared efforts of these four institutions and organizations beyond.


We got a chance to attend the unveiling ceremony this afternoon, and heard from some of the individuals who were most instrumental in the project, including District 1 Community Education Council (CEC1) president, Lisa Donlan.  She told us that the project began last May, after CEC1 conducted a comprehensive needs assessment of the gyms and play yards in the school district. It was expected that many of the school facilities wouldn’t measure up to the standard.

“Students are not getting enough access to physical activity, in part because of infrastructure.  While we targeted some schools who have overused gyms or don’t have  a gym or have a gym that’s a ‘cafe-labra-torium’ instead of a real gym, we decided that one thing we could make an impact on right away without billions of dollars in capital funding were our play yards.”

Thus began the makeover of the Henry Street playground.  The grey handball court has been doused with vibrant colors and inspirational messages, with the theme of one side being “work hard” (the other being “play hard,” of course).  It is evident that the mural design was contrived very much by those who breathe life into the space every school day.  It is filled with images from their dreams and inner aspirations.  There are spray pained sports stars, musicians, and scientists paired with the credo “never give up.

And though the students had some fabulous help from Ralph Perez and other members of the urban outreach group, Xmental, the design ideas were developed from within the classroom.  Students were required to make presentations and conduct surveys to pitch their artistic ideas to the administration.  More than one student emphasized that they felt very involved during the entire process.


Their work, it seems, and that of everyone who was involved, has paid off.  There are positive messages apparent everywhere in the playground.  The fences have been beautified with ribbon art done by students, showcasing school pride and community encouragement.  The faded hopscotch grids have been brought back to life with paints used from the mural, and though students probably won’t be using the space until school resumes in the fall, they can spend the coming weeks getting excited about playing in a more lively and vibrant setting.  Hopefully, the project will fulfill its mission of keeping kids active, healthy, and happy.

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