Unique School Spaces Offer Joy, Freedom, and Health to Students and Community
Whitaker Elementary School
El Paso, Texas
As a leader in Social and Emotional Health programming, Whitaker Elementary School of El Paso Independent School District is creating a space where their children and families can play, learn, grow and just be! Whitaker Elementary School was built to inspire imagination, and the community has rallied together to help bring the “Be Hive” to life.
As a Title 1 school with a predominantly low-income population, funding this big of a project was difficult to imagine. After being identified as the only elementary school in the county to fail to meet state academic standards, the school climate was struggling and a shift was needed. Piece by piece, Whitaker worked towards their goals – always keeping the dream of the Be Hive in the back of their mind. The district, in collaboration with parents and the community, made changes in the school administration and provided instruction in new teaching methods. Rather than focusing on “teaching to the test,” the new focus for the school was on the children, and part of that was bringing joy back to the school, community and its teachers. So, a group of parents decided to do just that.
They started by asking teachers and family alumni what they missed most about the early days when the school was new. They learned there had been a garden and a greenhouse, both of which had sat untouched for more than a decade. Through their first grant with Action For Healthy Kids, they were able to bring the community together to leverage skills, partnerships and other support to revive their school garden and develop new programming. This garden is now run by a partnership between science and kindergarten teachers, grandparents and great grandparents, parents and the school librarian. This year’s garden club included students from the previous year who could help show new family members and club members how to care for the plants. All of the produce not eaten by the school community is harvested and donated to a local food pantry. Through determination and hard work from parents, partners, and the school, they have been able to create a beautiful culinary garden, an outdoor learning area with shady trees and picnic tables, and garden events such as tastings of recipes prepared with food grown by their own children and bike rodeos. From here, test scores began to rise and so did the morale of the community.
With this momentum, the dream of the Be Hive could finally come true. A little house that was once used for custodial staff has now seen an incredible transformation thanks to the generous support of Action for Healthy Kids and Materne GoGo squeeZ. The Be Hive sits between the outdoor learning center and the culinary garden, and up until recently has primarily been used for storage. With their 2019-2020 Game On: Be Time grant, staff, students and families are creating a space where families feel welcome and children are excited to go. The dreams for this little house are not small, but with the helping hands of the community, it is becoming a dream come true.
Each room of the Be Hive serves a different purpose and is designed to support children and families in unique ways. The central room area serves as a gathering space with music, games and other interactive activities—a space where parent and community events can also be hosted. The kitchen serves as a space where garden club can host garden events or explore new foods with healthy taste tests. Community partners have supported the selection of paint colors using the science behind color selection and the design of spaces for children who just need to “reset” in order to be successful in school. The bedrooms of the house are being transformed into the build, create, and dream rooms to inspire the imagination and encourage creativity and experiential learning through unstructured play. Donations from the community have started to dress the house with items including a piano, furniture and light fixtures, and even a NICU-style incubator that will be used for hatching!
Parents have become partners in education at Whitaker. They read in classrooms, teach gardening classes, support the coaches in bike rodeo days and kite flying. Whitaker is a space to be yourself, to acknowledge your dreams, and to work with and learn from others. Staff, students and families are thankful for the support they’ve received from Action for Healthy Kids and are looking forward to helping other schools follow their own path to find a seat at the table and design the tools needed to make a difference.
This grant was made possible with funding from GoGo squeeZ.