On Tuesday, Oct. 5, members of the Fordham community, the Trust for Public Land, the Department of Environmental Protection, elected officials, and staff and students from two Bronx public schools came together to celebrate the groundbreaking of the brand new $2.2 million schoolyard. The Center for Educational Partnerships at Fordham’s Graduate School of Education has for the past six years provided administrative help to MS 331, one of the schools on the site.
“Our schoolyard is used by the whole community, and we wanted to have something here that people could use that is a state-of-the-art facility. Right now, we have a lot missing here, including any sort of green space for kids to sit outside,” said Serapha Cruz, GSE ’05, the principal of MS 331.
The staff at the Center for Educational Partnerships, which began working with the school in 2015, played an invaluable role in the project, she said.
“One of the things Fordham did was keep the momentum going, pushing for us to get the design process done and getting the council members involved who funded the project,” she said.
“It’s a lot of stuff that I don’t have the time to do because I’m busy running the day-to-day school operations and the instructional agenda of the school. They are always super helpful with helping us reach out for outside partnerships.”
New Courts and an Outdoor Classroom
The ceremony took place in the 46,342-square-foot play area of MS 331/PS 306X in the Morris Heights neighborhood. As elevated 4 trains rumbled by alongside the school, attendees viewed renderings of the space, which will be transformed from a cracked and crumbling parking lot into an environmentally friendly play destination.
When it opens in the fall of 2024, the space will feature a basketball court, a volleyball court, a turf field for soccer and football, game tables, play equipment, an outdoor classroom, and a gazebo. The Department of Environmental Protection will also help address drainage issues that have caused flooding in the area.
The ceremony included Cruz; Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.; a representative of New York City Council member Fernando Cabrera, whose offices secured the funding; and Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham.
A Proud Partner in Serving Bronx Children
Father McShane said that playgrounds are “magical places,” because they are where we make friends, and because they are where the music of the Bronx—the joyful shouts of children—can be heard.
“We are happily, proudly a Bronx institution, and from the very beginning, we felt we had a special mission to and for the people of the Bronx. All of us at Fordham want to be of service and in partnership with everyone in the Bronx, so this is a great day,” he said.
“Today, I tip my hat to you. Thank you for dreaming of this; now make sure this is filled with fun, friendship, and the music of the next generation of New Yorkers.”
Cruz, who has been at the school for 17 years, said she was thrilled to see so many disparate participants of the project, which began three years ago, together in one place.
Students worked with staff from the Trust for Public Land to design the play area, which will serve a little over 1,000 students, and then staff, students and parents choose from two designs their favorite.
Like Father McShane, Diaz Jr. pegged playgrounds as more than just a place to exercise.
“When we were students, how many of you can recall a memory if not more, of the playground? For me, at PS 5, I remember playing kickball, then at PS 31, I remember playing punchball. I remember starting what I thought in my mind was going to be my basketball career there,” he said.
“It breaks my heart to see the current state of this playground, but I know that good days are ahead.”
Anita Vazquez Batisti, Ph.D., associate dean, and director of the Center for Educational Partnerships, said the project exemplified the center’s focus on providing services and support to all members of the school community.
“Jesuit education is steeped in the notion of cura personalis, or care for the entire person as an individual endowed with particular gifts and insights. So too is our work,” she said.
“The new student-designed schoolyard, where students will exercise their bodies, stimulate their minds, and rejuvenate their spirits, is a perfect embodiment of that ethos.”