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Engaging communities + Provoking change

Sumner schoolyard

*Updated November 2017

In March 2016, the play structure at the Charles M. Sumner Elementary School in Roslindale was destroyed by an act of arson. The Sumner schoolyard serves as a play space for over 600 students, as well as community members when school is not in session. With the help of City Councilor Michelle Wu, a coalition of parents and teachers from the school successfully raised funding for a temporary play structure. Inspired by the PlayCubes installed in the Chinatown Park as part of the Extraordinary Playscapes exhibition at BSA Space, the Sumner community purchased a set of PlayCubes that were installed during a community build day in September 2016.

The destruction of the play structure brought up a deeper conversation among the community at Sumner to reimagine the entire campus of the school. The schoolyard was last updated in 2001, and as such was slated for a redesign by Boston Public Schools (BPS). After the arson, BPS proposed simply replacing the destroyed play structure in lieu of a complete redesign. Students, parents, staff members, teachers, and community members all came together and successfully advocated for the comprehensive schoolyard redesign that would best serve the developmental needs of the student body and neighborhood.

Sumner School staff, who have previously partnered with the BSA Foundation’s youth programming, reached out to the Foundation for help engaging Roslindale community members in a schoolyard visioning process. Over the course of the school year, Foundation staff and volunteers worked alongside parents and teachers from the Sumner School to hold a series of workshops and activities for the students and families of Roslindale to design the new schoolyard that would provide a place of discovery, play, and learning. Foundation staff led four family-friendly, hands-on workshops where participants modelled their best ideas. Students were also able to vote for their favorite schoolyard elements in a lunchtime activity, as well as drawing their ideas on a worksheet tailored to each grade. In April 2017, faculty members participated in a session where they provided their own schoolyard design ideas.

Boston Public Schools has been working with the BSA Foundation, parents, and staff from the Sumner School throughout this process. The City of Boston Public Facilities Department will be issuing an RFP for a design team to manage the playground redesign in late 2017.

Update on the Sumner School Playground visioning project

In the summer of 2017, the City of Boston and Boston Public Schools hired Icon Parks to execute the new playground design, to be based on the creative visioning work initiated and facilitated by Roslindale Wants to Play (pre-fire), and the BSA Foundation (post arson) throughout 2016 and 2017.

The Sumner Parents Council met on November 8, 2017 at the Sumner School in Roslindale to review and give feedback on three design directions produced by Icon Parks, each including design directions suggested by the community. Community ideas were generated at neighborhood workshops and in school initiatives that included preference voting and student worksheets. The designs will stay at the school through the month of November for students, staff and families to share their preferences and comments.

The next steps? Integrating the feedback from the Summer community into a the final design. Stay tuned for updates.

Images courtesy of BSA staff.


To learn more about how the BSA Foundation is making an impact in communities, please come to BSA Space for a one hour “tour” of BSA Foundation programs. On the tour, board members and volunteers will tell stories about how Foundation programs, and the power of design, are positively changing the lives of real people. Foundation Conversations are held on the second Wednesday of every month. Events are free, but seats are limited. Check for upcoming dates and to reserve your seat.