Drexel, Mantua Civic Association, Morton McMichael School and School District of Philadelphia to Open New Playground

Students at the Morton McMichael School will have a new playground when they return this fall thanks to a collaboration between the school, Mantua Civic Association and Drexel University. The school will officially open its new 12,000-square foot recreation space — the culmination of more than a decade of planning, fundraising and execution — in a ceremony on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 5 p.m.

“This playground is a splendid example of what we can accomplish by working together as a community,” said Drexel President John Fry. “The success of this project was made possible by the leadership of Drexel Professor Deb Ruben, the dedication of the Mantua Civic Association and generous support from the School District of Philadelphia, the Lindy Family, Jerry Sweeney, the McLean Contributionship and Lowe’s – and, most importantly, by our collaboration with the leadership, staff, and of course the students at McMichael, who now have a beautiful outdoor place to play and to learn.”

The playground’s design is focused on increasing opportunity for play and for social and physical activity. In addition to new kid-powered play equipment, a basketball hoop, painted game courts and a STEM-themed mural created by Mural Arts, the redesign included environmental features, such as gardens to manage runoff from the parking lot and additional trees and landscaping to provide shade and counteract the pavement’s contribution to urban heat island effect.

“This playground has been a truly collaborative effort,” said Debra Ruben, an associate professor and the associate dean for Academic & Faculty Affairs of Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, who has spearheaded Drexel’s collaboration since the project started in 2012. “So many McMichael students, teachers and parents have contributed to guiding this work over the years, with Mantua Civic Association and Drexel helping to gather the resources to bring it to fruition, this is something our community can really be proud of.”

McMichael is a K-8 public school located on Fairmount Avenue in Philadelphia’s Mantua neighborhood. In addition to its educational mission, the school has been an important anchor for its community since its opening in 1890 – serving as a venue for events, meetings and formal and informal gatherings.

The Mantua Civic Association and Drexel initially joined forces to help McMichael beginning in 2010 as part of an effort to develop a school improvement plan when it was threatened with closure. Faculty and staff from Drexel’s School of Education worked diligently with Mantua leaders to develop and implement the plan, which enabled the school to stay open and continue filling its important role in the community.

The University has been a committed partner to the McMichael school ever since.

“Drexel’s relationship with McMichael and the Mantua Civic Association has grown steadily over the years,” said Lucy Kerman, PhD, Drexel’s senior vice provost for University and Community Partnerships. “Like most relationships, our bond is not always something that’s tangible. But this playground is a fitting – and visible – example of what we can accomplish together.”

In 2013, Drexel was part of a team in West Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia that worked to secure Promise Zone designation from the Obama Administration, which brought technical assistance and a number of funding opportunities to this community. When the Department of Education awarded a $30 million Promise Neighborhood grant to Drexel for schools in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone, McMichael was one of seven schools chosen to be supported by the program.

“Partnerships and collaborations can be a positive change agent for our children to have a fair future,” said De’Wayne Drummond, president of the Mantua Civic Association. “It has been a long time coming and we are grateful that this playground area for our Morton McMichael students has been completed. Health and wellness are a must when it comes down to our students’ educational environments.”

Working closely with McMichael’s leadership over the last decade, the University has been able to invest more than $1.5 million in funds raised from public and private sources to support improved instruction, school climate, after-school programming and school beautification projects.

“The McMichael School, the School District of Philadelphia, Mantua Civic Association and Drexel University have been a stable force in building a culture of equity within our community,” said McMichael School Principal Dollette Johns-Smith. “I'm so humbled to continue advocating with these partners – this beautiful playground is just the beginning."

Led by Ruben, the playground project drew on input, guidance and support from McMichael’s leadership, teachers, students, as well as community members. The group raised more than $365,000 for the project, including grants, gifts from private donors and support from the Philadelphia School District.

Representatives from the partner organizations, the City of Philadelphia and the School District will join community members to open the playground on Aug. 24. Final planting and landscaping will be completed this fall with the school – and its new playground – welcoming back students on Aug. 29.