Corporate Partnership Builds a Public School Playground

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Howe Elementary School of Excellence students on their new playground built through Coca Cola's "Sprite Spark Park Project" on September 9, 2011. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Keisha S. Campbell, principal of the Howe School of Excellence in the West Side’s Austin neighborhood, pointed at her school’s new playground and recalled what was there before:

“When we took over Howe, there was not a green area on site. It was gravel,” Campbell said during a press conference on Friday, Sept. 9, at the school, 720 N. Lorel Ave. “In three years, due to the partnership of the Chicago Public Schools, and the alderman’s office, we now have a green area and grass for students to run and play safely.”

Actually, the new playground at Howe – a school that is run by a private non-profit organization under contract to the Chicago Public Schools – is the result of a grant from a major corporation, Coca Cola/Sprite, which donated $25,000 to build the brand new playground where none existed under their “Sprite Spark Parks Project for Schools,” a national campaign that is “focused on refurbishing active spaces for students, in order to create clean, safe and fun areas and to encourage physical fitness among students.”

For the dedication ceremony and press conference at Howe, local residents and students joined state Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago), Ald. Emma Mitts (37), Coca-Cola/Sprite executives and Chicago Public School officials. Mitts, who has been the alderman of the ward for the past 12 years, said that while looking at the “sparkling” kids who took part in the event and were obviously happy about the new playground, she was considering what it meant to stand there and see something new come into the neighborhood.

“It’s something that we didn’t have before,” the alderman said. “And that’s what I look at in a community. And it makes you proud because that means you are progressing. That means we still have hope,” she declared. Mitts added that it was important for the Howe students “to get out and get loose.”
Speaking on behalf of the Howe student body, student ambassador Kendrick Belk expressed his appreciation to the public-private sponsorship, “We are truly thankful.”

Oliver Bowe (from left), distribution manager for Coca Cola, State Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago), Ald. Emma Mitts (37), Keisha S. Campbell, principal of the Howe School of Excellence, CPS Deputy CEO Barbara Lumpkin, Dr. Noemi Donoso, also from CPS, and Dr. Donald Feinstein, executive director of AUSL, at the Howe School park and playground dedication on September 9. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Campbell’s boss, Dr. Donald Feinstein, executive director of AUSL, a non-profit that turns around schools under contract with the Chicago Public Schools, praised the schools staff and their partners as “a shining example for the city, and also for the State of Illinois.”

He added that he would continue to work with Mitts to get other assistance for other public schools in need.
“There are other children in other schools who want this,” Feinstein said.

“Who don’t want to have to play and scrape their knees. Who don’t want to look at an ugly building. Who want to feel safe in their schools. Who want to be excited about the education they get from their teachers. Who want to have a partnership with the parents.”

Dr. Noemi Donoso, the new Chief Education Officer for Chicago Public Schools, said the park was a “symbol” for the future and “the adventures” that lie ahead for everyone.

Students of Howe Elementary School of Excellence cutting ribbons with a Coca Cola executive, CPS officials and political leaders during the dedication of their new state-of-the-art playground built with a grant from Coca Cola on Sept. 9. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Kevin Morris, vice president of public affairs and communications for Coca Cola/Sprite’s Midwest Region, was also in attendance. The event was part of a multi-year initiative by the company to “positively impact neighborhood and school active spaces in communities across the United States.”

Morris Smith, public affairs and communications manager for the Coca Cola Midwest region, told Residents’ Journal after the event that the company built the playground at Howe to connect with the West Side community, since they have a facility located at the intersection of Division Street and Cicero Avenue.
“We want to make sure that we can do something that’s sustainable and make a long-term difference in the community,” Smith said.

Details of the corporation’s program provided to RJ state the company is planning to put approximately $2 million into building or revamping outdoor spaces such as basketball courts, community spaces, playgrounds and athletic fields in at least 150 American cities. “As a result, an estimated one million young people will have greater access to recreational spaces where they can be inspired to be active and creative,” according to their fact sheet.

JEWEL-OSCO has also partnered with the Sprite Spark Parks Project, and will provide grants totaling $20,000 to be distributed to 12 schools in the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs over the next month, to use toward purchasing new athletic equipment and playground improvements, according to Oliver Bowe, distribution manager for Coca Cola, who moderated the event. Funds will be used for schools in Chicago, Des Plaines, Normal, Westmont, Waukegan, St. Charles, Lombard, Homewood and Yorkville.

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