Rather than catching up on sleep and fun, eight freshmen from Webster High School volunteered to spend spring break brainstorming ideas for improving their community park.
The students are the first to participate in Tulsa Public Schools’ new City Lab program, which allows freshmen to expand their problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities outside the classroom. The program is made possible through a partnership among TPS, the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, City Year Tulsa and the Tulsa Parks and Recreation Department.
“City Lab is providing an experience for freshmen to develop 21st century skills that are needed for life- and employment-readiness,” said Emily Hutton, the district’s director of community engagement.
For the program’s pilot phase, its organizers decided to give students an opportunity to come up with STEM-related activities (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for the city’s youngest park users. District officials chose to recruit participants from Webster due to the school’s proximity to Reed Park, 4233 S. Yukon Ave.
During this week, the eight Webster students worked on solutions for attracting more youth to Reed Park and its community center. They were tasked with creating impact project models that could some day be implemented at the park.
Monday through Thursday involved interviewing park managers, studying the needs and interests of parkgoers and crafting their project models. On Friday, they presented their proposals to community stakeholders and city parks officials.
Freshman Daniel Davis focused on modifying the park’s seldom-used tennis courts to provide other types of activities.
“We did a lot of research and found out nobody really uses the tennis court,” Davis said. “So we decided to redesign it and make it a little better.”
In addition to adding basketball hoops, he and his classmates decided to separate the space into four STEM-oriented sections specialized for various age groups. The section for 4- to 5-year-olds, for example, would feature activities with shapes and colors.
Another student, Ana Zermeno, helped design a STEM Center for inside the community center. The room would be equipped with games and tools intended to hone children’s creativity skills.
“We just thought there was a need for this kind of room because there’s nothing else like it here,” Zermeno said.
Other project ideas include an outdoor obstacle course, as well as arts and craft activities, such as building bird houses.
Xan Black, executive director of the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, said these activities offer kids who don’t want to play basketball an opportunity to also have fun while learning essential STEM skills.
“Every single industry that’s producing wealth in our state is STEM-based,” said Black, whose organization partners with TPS to operate City Lab. “If we don’t get the STEM workforce that’s needed, then we’re in trouble.”
Following Friday’s presentations, City Lab organizers intended to further discuss the proposals with parks officials to figure out what they liked and what’s feasible. Hutton said there will be a second pilot phase this summer in which it is hoped students will spend two weeks constructing the project models developed over spring break.
Parks Director Anna America said she was beyond impressed that the students could design so many thoughtful ideas in such a short time.
America was particularly interested by the idea to repurpose the tennis courts.
“We have really been struggling across the city to figure out better uses for some of our tennis courts that are underused or aren’t in great shape,” she said. “So they might have come up with some ideas here that can be used in other parts of the city and help make not just this park better but others, as well.”
The full program will roll out next year for freshmen throughout the district in five-day, 10-day and 20-day sessions that will be available during extended school breaks.