2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Park entrance teaches Colorado Springs kids about community

Published: May 23, 2014, 8:01 am, by Bill Vogrin

The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

The entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in Rockrimmon was a non-descript mess of bushes, trees and sidewalks in this Sept. 25, 2013, photo. Courtesy Jack Lundberg.

The new garden at the entrance to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood will be dedicated at 11:30 a.m., May 30. It was a collaboration of the Discovery Homeowners Association, neighbors, area businesses, city parks and utilities as well as the Rockrimmon Elementary School. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

The new garden at the entrance to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood will be dedicated at 11:30 a.m., May 30. It was a collaboration of the Discovery Homeowners Association, neighbors, area businesses, city parks and utilities as well as the Rockrimmon Elementary School. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

To passersby, the entrance to Discovery Park off Pebble Way in the Rockrimmon neighborhood is just a nicely landscaped gateway to the playground, baseball diamond and soccer field.

But the newly sculpted walking paths, the bright flowers, shrubs, trees and mulch represent much more than a neighborhood amenity.

To Barbara Barton, principal at Rockrimmon Elementary School, it was a great opportunity for her students to learn important lessons.

“One of our goals is to make learning relevant,” Barton said. “We’ve connected with this project on all kinds of levels.”

City horticulturist Donna Sanchez explains planting procedures to students from Rockrimmon Elementary school on Friday, May 16, 2014. About 17 students helped plant flowers they grew in the school's community garden in the new gateway to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood. It was a collaboration of the Discovery Homeowners Association, neighbors, area businesses, city parks and utilities as well as the Rockrimmon Elementary School. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

City horticulturist Donna Sanchez explains planting procedures to students from Rockrimmon Elementary school on Friday, May 16, 2014. About 17 students helped plant flowers they grew in the school’s community garden in the new gateway to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

For kids in the school’s garden club, it was a chance to apply what they’ve learned in their own community garden next to the park.

“Every grade level has a raised bed where they plant in the community garden,” Barton said. “All our kids are involved in the garden.”

For kids in the art club, it was a chance to create ceramic stones to line the paths of the gateway garden. It wasn’t exactly as fun as you might expect.

“The glaze wasn’t working with the clay so we had to start over,” Barton said. “The new glaze is beautiful.”

052314 Side Streets 7But the artistic stones won’t be ready for placement in the gateway until next fall.
Then there is a group of five fifth-grade students who learned very different lessons from the project.

They are being mentored by Barton as part of the school’s participation in the International Baccalaureate program, which encourages students to develop independence and to take responsibility for their own learning as they gain understanding of the world and learn how to function comfortably within it.

The five found themselves immersed in the real world as they joined the Discovery Homeowners Association in planning meetings with officials of the Colorado Springs Parks Department, Colorado Springs Utilities and landscape architects.

“They sat in on the planning and were given diagrams and had a voice in the process,” she said.

The five followed the project from conceptual design to actual construction and then shared what they learned with the rest of the students at Rockrimmon.

Thejas Satishkumar, a fifth grade student at Rockrimmon Elementary school, was among 17 students helped plant flowers May 16, 2014,  in the new gateway to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

Thejas Satishkumar, a fifth grade student at Rockrimmon Elementary school, was among 17 students helped plant flowers May 16, 2014, in the new gateway to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

“These five students chose to be environmentalists,” Barton said. “During our IB exhibition in April, they taught everyone about xeriscaping and drought-resistant plants and deer-resistant plants and water conservation.”

That’s a lot of learning from a gateway garden to a neighborhood park.

And a lot of credit goes to the Discovery HOA who wanted to turn an eyesore into a neighborhood amenity and the neighbors and businesses who donated thousands of dollars worth of design skills and materials for the garden and the city folks who contributed as well.

Jack Lundberg, president of the Discovery HOA, is so proud of what the way the community has come together that he has invited Mayor Steve Bach and others to attend a dedication ceremony at 11:30 a.m., May 30.

He should be proud. Coordinating these kinds of projects is like herding cats.
Making it a collaborative effort spreads the pride to everyone involved. And that’s especially true of the kids who will remember their involvement in transforming a patch of dead grass and overgrown bushes into a beautiful new entrance.

Barton said these kinds of projects have a lasting impact on children and play a key role in the school’s overall mission.

Stacy Rawlins, a city parks employee, poses May 16, 2014, with Niko Pappas, left, and Parker Croslin, right, who are fifth grade students at Rockrimmon Elementary school. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

Stacy Rawlins, a city parks employee, poses May 16, 2014, with Niko Pappas, left, and Parker Croslin, right, who are fifth grade students at Rockrimmon Elementary school. Photo courtesy Barbara Barton.

“We talk to our students all the time about taking meaningful action,” Barton said. “It’s a huge emphasis at our school.

“That includes taking meaningful action at home. Taking meaningful action at school. And ultimately taking meaningful action in your community and in the world.”

So congrats to Discovery HOA, the neighbors who donated their expertise, time and energy, the businesses who gave to the project and the city officials who contributed.

You didn’t just help build a gateway garden. You helped teach these students valuable lessons about what it means to be a contributing member of the community.

And that lesson will be reinforced each time they walk to school and pass the gateway garden and see their efforts blossom and grow.

About 17 students from Rockrimmon Elementary school planted flowers  Friday, May 16, 2014, that they grew in the school's community garden in the new gateway to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood. It was a collaboration of the Discovery Homeowners Association, neighbors, area businesses, city parks and utilities as well as the Rockrimmon Elementary School. Photo courtesy Jack Lundberg.

About 17 students from Rockrimmon Elementary school planted flowers Friday, May 16, 2014, that they grew in the school’s community garden in the new gateway to Discovery Park in the Rockrimmon neighborhood. It was a collaboration of the Discovery Homeowners Association, neighbors, area businesses, city parks and utilities as well as the Rockrimmon Elementary School. Photo courtesy Jack Lundberg.