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SJNRA and Penn College work together to build a playground

SJNRA and Penn College work together to build a playground

Young students attending classes at the elementary campus of St. John Neumann Regional Academy (SJNRA) have never had a real playground. They have played for years on the blacktop at the school, but all that is about to change.

Administration, parents and staff have come together to stretch their imaginations to create a place where children can enjoy an outdoor environment of fresh air, green grass and the smell of flowers in the spring. A combination playground and gardens will be taking shape in late summer this year on a vacant lot just off Penn Street, close to the St. Boniface Church and the elementary classrooms. The area was planted with grass earlier this year and the children were excited to play there, said Jenny McPherson, director of guidance at SJNRA, and a parent of two elementary students.

If grass is a dream come true, the children should be thrilled with what will appear when the school year gets underway. That’s when the playground equipment should arrive, with two slides and simple play items like a balance beam and small climbing wall for fun.

Plants and other green elements will be constructed with the help of Penn College horticulture students under the direction and tutelage of assistant professor of horticulture Carl Bower, designer of the project.

Bower “truly believes that children should be connected to nature, plants and the sources of our food.” As a graduate of the former Bishop Neumann High School and parent of two children at the school, he “felt a vested interest in the project,” as did McPherson.

Working with the administration to discuss how the space would be used, it was determined that a playground and teaching/learning area would be a great use of the space, noted Bower. Areas such as an outdoor classroom will be added in the center of the garden/playspace with fun, multicolored benches and a circular arbor.

Areas for a compost bin and rain barrels will teach the students sustainable methods to help the environment, Bower noted.

“Because the school’s Catholic faith is a big part of the students’ education,” Bower said, a rosary garden will be added with benches, shade trees, a large-scale rosary made of stone and a wooden cross will add a quiet space in which to reflect.

McPherson sees opportunities for students to engage in STREAM learning through the new project.

STREAM is a learning initiative from the Scranton Diocese, the Director of Guidance explained. The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math.

“Carl has been an integral part of this process,” McPherson said, noting that Bower “helped us see that this could be so much more than a playground.”

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