When my son started JK at Hopewell Avenue Public School, I was five months pregnant with a one year old in tow, so kindness from Hopewell parents during pick up and drop offs meant the world to me. It encouraged me to engage more deeply with the community by volunteering.
So after my son was born in December 2017, I chose to spend my few hours of “me time” each week at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board sponsored workshop on naturalizing school play grounds. It was not entirely surprising since I had recently returned from developing infrastructure projects in West Africa, leaving a career as a management consultant at CPCS – a consulting firm based just over the Canal in the Glebe and doing amazing things for people all over the world, but especially in Africa. The series of six weekly workshops was at Immaculata High School and it was where I met like-minded Hopewell parent, Stephanie McNeely. An infrastructure professional and naturalist like me, we were inspired by the ideas the Evergreen Consultants presented. Our children would balance on logs! Our children would seek and hide in wood huts! Our children might even learn to harvest rainwater under the shade of a majestic maple! While we dreamed, we also gathered information about the state of the yard and the process to implement a playground development. It was not long before our two person team grew exponentially, stacked with equally dedicated parents and school staff, Fran Morrison, Tarah Hunter, Katie Hession, Daphne Dumbrille, Jill Anderson, Melissa Snyder, Christine Harris, Madison McPherson, Adam Jacques, and importantly the incredibly motivating and motivated school principal, Martina Sherwood.
Together, we all noticed that the kindergarten yard needed an upgrade. Parents could relate; when we dropped off our young children each morning, the yard was either flooded or iced over. The winter months wore on, and the structure continued to be off limits. When it started to warm up, the lack of drainage left our kids soaked each day. Sand is fun but the lip between the paved pathway and sand was growing, and a dangerous tripping hazard created in its wake. The yard serves close to 200 kindergarten students each day and about 16 preschoolers from the daycare.
We reached a consensus to pursue the goal of developing a new kindergarten yard by summer 2020. We had many meetings to plan, engaged with the wonderfully responsive school board, and conducted kindergarten stakeholder engagements, out of which we learned the kids want to run, jump, hang, sneak, sit and climb. No surprise there. Then, the name Project SANDbox was born with an acronym that captured our vision: S for Shade, A for Accessibility, N for Natural Play and D for Drainage.
Over this past summer, our team submitted two grants. The City of Ottawa Minor Capital Grant program awarded us $7,500 and TD Friends of the Environment awarded us $10,000. So with a few other contributions, and the school council’s forethought to begin dedicating money to this project a few years back, we have $51,750 toward our $125,000 goal. Our team is planning a full season jam-packed with exciting fundraising events, including an online auction, trivia night, and dance-a-thon. We are using social media to spread awareness and a fantastic Vancouver-based platform called CHIMP to run our online fundraising campaign, which automates receiving donations, while providing tax receipts instantly.
Our initiative has had a particularly special track record on which to build because just five years ago the same School Council shared leadership on another massively successful yard renewal campaign on the large and tarmac yards, and we are able to learn from their success. The School Council is represented on our team by extraordinarily dedicated parent School Council Co-Chair Daphne Dumbrille. Our project is smaller in scale than the previous yard project and we hope to achieve the entirety of our vision with the help of our school community and the wider Old Ottawa South community. The school yard is open to community members in off-school hours, providing another oasis off-Bank for young children to engage with nature. We have created many ways for people to connect and contribute. See the links below.
Virginia Asante is a Hopewell PS parent and OSCA Board Member.
Originally published in the November 2019 OSCAR.