Park celebration at San Jacinto
After a year-long process of community meetings, teacher-lead green teams, and student and parent input, the hard work of the collaborators at San Jacinto Elementary has come to fruition.
Staff, parents, students and community members recently came together to celebrate the opening of San Jacinto Elementary School’s Cool School Neighborhood Park. The park, which includes a loop trail, a new playground, native plants, a community entrance, an outdoor classroom and a community-inspired mural is a collaboration with Dallas ISD, Trust for Public Land, Texas Trees Foundation, and Dallas Park and Recreation.
Sarah Mendoza, principal at San Jacinto believes that this project has strengthened the school’s connection to what was already a united community.
“This community is so tight and giving, just like a family,” she said. “We created a green team, which was voluntary. It included staff, community, and PTO members. Everyone was welcome. They would go to the meetings and they would see the blueprints or hear about the phases of the plan. They were thrilled to be a part of it and give input.”
One of the teachers who played an instrumental role as a member of the green team was second-grade teacher Ashley Combs. Combs was one of the grade-level chairs that met once a week to discuss everything from the playground to what options they had for the park.
“The efforts were definitely worth it. It’s been a life-changing experience for the kids. It’s brought a lot of joy to them during recess. I know that they are extremely grateful,” Combs said.
During the process, Comb’s classroom was the winner of two pizza parties because they had the full participation of parents in filling out the community surveys, which played an important role in designing the park. To Combs, all of these efforts have paid off.
“Seeing all the families here is rewarding,” she said. “The fact that we have this as an asset to our campus, and we’re able to bring in the community is important to us. At the end of the day, we’re here to teach, we’re here for the kids, and if we can bring the families in to make it an even tighter family then that’s a win for us.
The process of participation for all stakeholders, who included community and staff at San Jacinto Elementary, participated in two online meetings, one community in-person meeting, surveys, and teacher-lead meetings with members of the school’s green team. These efforts were instrumental in the design and the planning of the park. The intent of the work that was done, extended beyond serving the needs of the school. It included the surrounding community as well.
“One of our goals was to have a park within a ten minute walk, and one the easiest ways to do that was to transform school campuses like San Jacinto Elementary School into neighborhood parks afterschool and on the weekends,” said Sofia Hernandez, community conservation leader for Trust For Public Land.
San Jacinto’s park is one of the latest, but not the only Cool School Neighborhood Park in the district—Dallas ISD has 19.
“These schools were chosen as Cool Schools to help build healthier and happier communities by creating a neighborhood greenspace that will serve as a place to gather, learn, play, and help increase park access throughout Dallas,” Hernandez said.
One of the elements of the park included the participation of students, who planted all of the trees, alongside the guidance of members of the Texas Trees Foundation.
“It’s the greatest joy to see the kids interacting with the space and to imagine how the trees are going to grow in a few years and provide shade for the students, as well as provide a space where community members can come use while surrounded by nature,” said Samantha Bradley, Program Manager for Texas Trees Foundation.
Creative elements are also featured at the park, such as the mural designed by artist Stephanie Sanz. Sanz drew inspiration from student art work supplied by art teachers as well as from community feedback about neighborhood identity. “We asked people about what plants and things reminded them of the Pleasant Grove community, which has a strong connection to nature,” Hernandez said.
To find your nearest Cool School Neighborhood Park in Dallas ISD, visit: Cool School Neighborhood Parks