By Ciani Berry and Arionnah Oates
The STRIPES program at Belmont Charter High School is a place-based, experiential program for 11th graders. This past fall, students studied the Parkside community then designed and proposed projects for two green spaces on their campus block. Their projects are intended to support and enhance the larger school and neighborhood community. STRIPES students Ciani Berry and Ari Oates share more about the project and process:
The members of the STRIPES program have two green plots on our campus block where we are trying to create a space that the community can help with and be a part of. This fall we interviewed people from the community and school, and they all said the same thing—they wanted a hangout spot, somewhere to relax and be themselves. The two sites currently don’t attract anyone and no one takes care of it. There’s probably generations of trash there.
Belmont Charter High School shares a building and campus block with Inquiry Charter School. The outside spaces at the school are mainly designed for the younger kids, with playground equipment and gardening beds. The high school students don’t have a similar place. Our space is minimized. We would like to do more outside to feel closer to the community and neighborhood.
In order to take action, we spent the first semester studying Parkside, meeting community partners, and designing possible projects for the green spaces. On January 24, we presented our designs to community stakeholders at New River Presbyterian Church. Our class’s project ideas include playgrounds, exercise spaces, music studios, and outdoor classrooms.
Ciani and I had the idea for a memorial garden. When we interviewed Ms. Tamika at BCHS, she talked about how there’s no acknowledgement of our loved ones and students in the Belmont family who have passed away. There are no plaques or anything to honor them. We would like to plant flowers and/or have signage with their names. We think it’s important to honor both students, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters who have passed.
Another idea we had for the space is for a pop-up shop. We talked with Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, this fall about the new container mall on Parkside Ave., and this helped us think about how to bring a similar idea to our campus. We would like to provide a space for students with small business ideas to showcase their products. This is a way to bring the store to us instead of having to go to the stores, as well as teaching valuable business skills.
Presenting our ideas to an audience made us very nervous. It’s different than just being in a classroom talking to your peers. It’s a whole different perspective to practice for days and then stand in front of people and present your ideas. But it was really nice to hear others’ perspectives about our projects because they provided different ideas and suggestions to improve our designs. They also asked great questions that got us thinking about the little things that make a place special. It made us feel good to have our ideas listened to, and a weight was lifted off our shoulders to not be judged by everyone.
This semester we are now working to refine our ideas and ultimately identify final project designs for the two spaces on campus. Each week we look at different “filters” to help shape our proposals. For example, we met with Stacey Wolf, Director of Centralized Operations for Belmont Charter Network.
Talking to Stacey was an eye opener in helping us understand what our project needs to in order to make it happen and to maintain it. She helped us determine what we actually can do, how Belmont Charter Network can support, and what we can’t do. For example, she said that she liked the flower bed aspect of our memorial garden. The raised beds are a good option, she noted, but they require more maintenance than planting the flowers in the ground. We will need to think about this as we finalize our plans.
We also met with Kimberlee Douglas, a professor at Jefferson University, who talked about her Park in a Truck program. Her mission is similar to what we want to do in that they work with local communities to create park spaces. She gave us different design ideas for our space.
We are also using ideas and inspiration from Smith Playground and the annual PHS Flower Show to help finalize our plans by the end of March. We will create 3D models of the plans to help visualize how they will look and how people will move through the space. Our goal is to break ground in early April and hopefully have a community event to share the new spaces at the end of May. Stay tuned!