Cars and a children’s playground: these are not generally two things you would want to have sharing the same space. Yet at the Lafayette Street School, an elementary school in Newark, New Jersey, the principal is having teachers park in the school’s playground, as Barry Carter writes on NJ.com.
With about 34 cars parked in the parking lot, the school’s 1,100 students have limited, and little, space to exercise and play during recess at a potential cost to their learning.
Some students have been disciplined when they’ve leaned on cars; they are not supposed to run between them. As one parent, Ada Caro, says to Carter, “they [school officials] give more importance to the cars than the kids. They shouldn’t be penalized for using the playground because cars are there.”
Even without cars, the Lafayette Street School playground (pictured on NJ.com) is not an ideal spot for kids to play in. The part of the playground that students do have available to play is not the safest due to cracks in the surface, some patched unevenly with asphalt.
Principal Maria Merlo contends that teachers need to park in the playground so they won’t be late for work due to having to find a parking place. The school is located in the heavily congested Ironbound, an area of Newark with tight and narrow streets. Indeed, the practice of school staff parking on playgrounds occurs at other schools in the Ironbound but, Carter notes, those schools have larger playgrounds than Lafayette Street School does.
Parents of Lafayette Street School students have consulted with the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation group that has renovated other Newark school playgrounds; an architect has sketched out some plans. East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador has also contacted Merlo and the Newark school district about alternate parking possibilities: creating a special zone so school employees could park with impunity on the street; making more parking permits available; letting teachers park at a nearby parking garage at reduced rates.
While Amador contacted the principal and the district in back in November, he says he is still waiting for an answer beyond the district saying it is “aware” of parent concerns.
Teachers have unfortunately been caught in the middle and, as Carter writes, are not saying anything as “they don’t want to get in trouble.” The school district is not allowing Merlo to comment about the parents’ complaints that she is “not supportive.”
With the situation in limbo, and the cars still in the parking lot, some parents have started a petition and collected more than 300 signatures to demand a new playground. A few painted a hopscotch board on the school grounds last weekend so their kids could have something to play on.
More than a few studies have found that activity can enhance students’ performance and even help to improve their grades. A 2010 review in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that physical activity can help to increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain and also to provide “boosts in hormones such as norepinephrine and endorphins which help improve mood.” Kids need time to play and hindering their opportunities to do so can affect their work in the classroom.
Of course, teachers need a place to park their cars. But as parent Maria DaSilva-Pineda says, it’s the students’ needs and learning that should be a “priority.” An elementary school playground that looks like a parking lot (because it is being used as one) sends a clear message about what the school considers important and shows that it is not (contrary to what the school’s own website says), making students its “first priority.”
Photo from Thinkstock