Opening Space on the Playground

…at Waters Elementary School. Chicago Public Schools and 47th Ward Alderman Schulter have each pledged $2 million for improvements. Inside and outside, to include saving the old fieldhouse as the center of the community classroom and gardens there, to depave the playground, and address parking, art, and other interests.

The school is already a thriving little hive of volunteer activity. When the institutions showed up with the money pot two weeks ago, my concern was that so much of the neighbors and parents talking to each other would dissolve into everybody talking through the designers, managers and other experts and money keepers at the front of the room.

So last week we convened three small openings on the playground, in the playground. Actually turned out to be sort of little world cafe gatherings with flipchart pages taped to the walls of the building. We asked people to talk about the past, who they are, how they got here, and how the school got the way it is. We asked them to talk about future, what they imagined and dreamed the place might be in a year. And we asked about gifts and skills and lingering questions, about how they want this whole process to turn out.

We’re feeding the results back this week, online and on the school bulletin board. And offering to convene more sessions, so that the community conversation isn’t overwhelmed by modern day institutional colonization, albeit very well-intentioned.

My favorite moment of the process so far? One child coming off the playground on the way into school stopped at one of our posters. “What does that say?” he asked. “Conversation #3…” his mom began, “What gifts and skills do you have that can help create the place you want here? What do you have to contribute? What do you want to know?” It’s working already!

One Reply to “Opening Space on the Playground”

  1. Hey Michael,

    If the online stuff is available to the public, I’d love to see the link. On Tuesday our Parent Association is hosting our first Parent Cafes (one in the morning and one in the evening with childcare). Our Purpose:

    To strengthen our community through intimate discussions about the needs of our parents and our perceptions of the needs of the greater community.

    We had a staff cafe and OS last year. Parent cafes next week. And hopefully by the end of the year we’ll all be coming together, staff, parents, and students.

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