“Right now, parents may not want their kids to play there because it’s dirty and unsafe, but we want children to be able to play outside,” seventh-grader Divine Macibiri told the school board at its Feb. 3 meeting.
Her classmate, Atak Natali, told the board, “We are just kids, but we are kids with vision and commitment.”
Their vision is to improve the playground at the Front Street housing complex. Divine, Atak and many of their schoolmates live at the complex on West Presumpscot Street, which has 50 family apartments and is owned by the Portland Housing Authority. Improvements the students envision range from a new coat of paint for the play structures to a new basketball court.
The students got the idea working after school in the Multilingual Center’s Make It Happen! program. That Portland Public Schools’ program is a language acquisition, academic advocacy, and college readiness program for students whose primary language is not English.
The two students received plaques of commendation from Portland Board of Public Education Chair Sarah Thompson and Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk for their efforts. Those efforts so far include recently winning a $500 grant from Painting for a Purpose, a local organization that funds youth-led initiatives that make a difference in the community, so they can embark on the playground project.
But Atak and Divine and their Lyman Moore social studies teacher David Hilton, who accompanied the students at the meeting, stressed that their work is just beginning.
“They will need more to pull off their vision,” Hilton said.
To that end, he said, the students and school staff have met with some Housing Authority staff to discuss their ideas and they plan to get Lyman Moore’s new Community Service Committee involved.
Also, Hilton said, “I anticipate that Lyman Moore students will be involved with a spring cleanup day, plus some construction.” The students also plan to get input from the youngsters who live at the Front Street complex to learn about what they want for their playground.
Divine and Atak invited the School Board and school administration to visit and tour the playground.
“We welcome the opportunity to come and talk to our students,” Superintendent Caulk told the pair.