An education in movement

Students at Golden Door Charter School get a playground of their own

When the Golden Door Charter School moved to its current location at 3044 John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City a little over a decade ago, it had all the room it needed to handle the increasing number of students and the expanding number of programs.
What it did not have was a playground.
Golden Door takes its name from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. The school was founded on Grand Street in 1998 as one of the city’s first charter schools, with the support of then-Mayor Bret Schundler. “We had a nice playground at our old location,” said Principal Brian Stiles.
Now located on Kennedy Boulevard in the old St. John’s School, the facility serves about 500 students from kindergarten to eighth grade. Almost from the start, Stiles and other members of the school community began to work toward getting a playground.
“The construction of a playground at Golden Door has long been a goal,” he said.
Thanks to donations from BCB Community Bank, Goya Foods, and savvy fund raising by parents, the school recently opened its new $75,000 play area.

“Kids need exercise. They need to move. They need time outside to deal with the stress of the day.” – Suzanne Kinzler
While the school got a discount on the equipment, a large part of the cost came from the need to landscape. Sited on a steep slope alongside the building, the land had to be leveled out prior to construction of the playground. The whole side of the hill was filled in and built up, including the installation of a retaining wall at the bottom.

More than just for play

“This is not just a play space,” said Suzanne Kinzler, heath education teacher.
The playground provides kids with a place to exercise and teachers with a platform to teach kids about good health habits.
Prior to this, students exercised inside the school or in a narrow outdoor area near the front door. Sometimes opening up space the school closed Huron Avenue, which runs behind the building parallel to Kennedy Boulevard.
“Kids need exercise,” Kinzler said. “They need to move. They need time outside to deal with the stress of the day.”
She said the playground is designed to fit into the health and wellness curriculum.
“There are studies that show the more kids move, the more they learn in the classroom,” she said.
The playground is designed to be used for kids from kindergarten to the fifth grade. It is called a play space because kids do more in it than they would in a traditional playground.
Kids actually have to go through an introduction to the play space to learn about how to use it properly, Kinzler said. Each part of the facility has goals and other items that help the kids to learn about their health and the benefits of exercise.
While the space includes some traditional elements such as a slide, it also has elements more in common with a military boot camp, requiring kids to use a variety of skills and muscles. These elements are situated on ground covered by a rubberized mat.
Although the school had not held an official ribbon cutting, many of the kids have already been using the playground.
“We’ve tried it a few times,” said Carmella Jackson, a student at the school. She and other classmates have given the new space the grade A, they said.

BCB was the major sponsor

“We’re proud to sponsor things, not just in traditional public schools, but also in charter schools,” said BCB President and CEO Thomas Coughlin.
Although well known for its presence in the city of Bayonne, BCB has a branch in Jersey City, and over the years has done business throughout Hudson County.
While the funding took years to put together, construction took slightly more than a month. But there are still issues to resolve, Stiles said.
He said he wants to have a slanted cap put on top of the wall along the street side of the playground to keep kids from walking along it.
“Our kids know better,” he said, but noted that other kids in the area, including from another nearby school, might view the wall as a challenge and with a six-foot drop, someone could get hurt.
The other issue is security. Currently, a very old rusted spiked fence encircles the entire school. But the gate near the playground has no lock, and nearly anyone can access school property.
Stiles said the school has plans for a second, smaller playground to accommodate pre-k students in an area next to the existing playground. A new more secure fence would be part of that construction project.
More importantly, the next step will likely include changes in the local traffic patterns, including turning the street behind the school one way. This would minimize traffic impacts on the area.
“This would help make it safer not just for our school, but for children throughout the area, and help our neighbors,” Stiles said.

Al Sullivan may be reached at

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