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Parking lot in school playground kills activity space for children in Newark

Besides providing a quality education, good schools are defined by good play spaces for their students. Parents, teachers, and community members of Newark, New Jersey, are up in arms about the Lafayette Street School’s take on a playground: a repurposed parking lot.

The Ironbound grammar school adheres to a long-standing practice of children sharing their playground with the teachers’ parking lot. This largely reduces the play area where kids run around during break hours.

School children running in playground with parked cars

School children try to make the most of the clipped playground, darting between parked cars (image by NJ.com).

The 34 parked cars occupy half the playground and eat up space meant for recess and gym activities. But the principal, Maria Merlo, is unfazed. She justifies putting the parking lot in playground by saying that this ensures teachers are not late for work while looking for parking space elsewhere.

Last November, East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador offered alternatives to the principal and the district. He proposed creating a special zone for teachers, increasing number of parking permits on the street for school employees, and renting parking garage nearby, with reduced rates. Unfortunately, Amador’s proposed solutions were ignored.

Parents take matters into their own hands

Besides curtailing the children’s play space, cars in the playground create another nuisance. Parent Ada Caro gives an example of the school prioritizing the cars over kids. Her fourth-grader daughter was not allowed to play for the remainder of the recess because she leaned up against one of the teacher’s cars.

Some of the parents have taken the matter into their own hands, seeking to provide a proper designated area for their kids to play in. Their petition for a new playground already has 300 signatures from other parents.

The crusade is growing. A local architect has drawn up plans for a new playground, and NJ.com reports that parents “have talked with officials from the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation group that renovated other Newark school playgrounds.”

Children at play sign

View the sign here.

Even though the practice of parking in playgrounds is rampant in Newark — given the absence of on-street parking — there are many schools in the Ironbound area that choose to deal with the issue differently. These schools face the same problem but have managed to create separate play spaces.

A concerned parent, Maria DaSilva-Pineda, says, “The priority should be the kids. We’re talking about the development of children. Playing allows you to socialize. It’s part of learning. It’s a part of education.”

Outdoor activities improve a child’s body, spirit, and mind. Playing outside enhances social interactions, boosts attention span, and significantly increases student performance in school tests.

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