Stories of ImpactOvercoming the Pandemic to Build a Playground for Baltimore’s Kids

How One Community's Sparks for Change Gave Kids an Incredible Place to Play

By KABOOM! | November 12, 2020

“The playground was kind of small and I didn’t like it. It got super old and barely anybody wanted to play on it.” David, Hamilton Elementary/Middle School student

For years, instead of swinging high in the air and racing down slides, students at Hamilton Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore spent recess avoiding their outdated playground. After the playground fell into disrepair, it was ultimately removed for safety reasons.

Hamilton Elementary/Middle School's old playgroundHamilton Elementary/Middle School’s old playground, deemed too unsafe for kids to play

The worst part was that the students at Hamilton knew that nearby school systems had great places to play for their kids.

Inequity has an effect on kids. They may not be able to name it, but they can see when something is not right — just like David and his friends saw with their school’s playground. The lack of amazing, safe places to play disproportionately affects Black and brown kids, and is too often the reality in community after community.

Thanks to support from students, their parents, the surrounding neighborhood and our partner UnitedHealthcare, together we built a brand new playground for David and all the kids in the Hamilton Elementary community.

Watch how the Hamilton Elementary/Middle School Project Came Together

A Playground Designed by the Experts: Kids

At KABOOM!, kids are more than the users of our playgrounds — they’re the designers.

Every KABOOM! playground starts with a special event where the true experts draw their dream playgrounds to ensure that we get it right.

Just as our playspace projects were about to kick off this year, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the country. We had to quickly rewrite our playbook to safely work with communities as many organizations closed and schools moved to virtual learning.

Despite the unprecedented obstacles, the project partners and KABOOM! remained committed to ensuring that students at Hamilton Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore would have a playground to return to when it was safe. And KABOOM! had to find a creative way to virtually engage kids in their new playground’s design by getting them design pads to use at home.

The encouragement came in an unlikely form: snow balls! (You might know them as snow cones.)

Community member Julie Lin came forward with a brilliant, and sweet, idea. She contacted Walther Gardens, Baltimore’s oldest and best known “snowball” stand, who agreed to give each student who submitted a playground design a free snowball. It was a great treat for the kids, and provided them another bright spot during an especially stressful time.

Community support like this is a critical part of our projects. It sends a powerful message to kids that they matter.

With the design process complete, school staff and parents met by video or phone each week to plan for the playground to be installed.

A student from Hamilton Elementary/Middle School

“When the place is everything you design, you feel like it’s your home, but better. You feel like you can do whatever you want. I’m looking forward to having fun with all my friends.”Arian, 3rd Grade Student
Hamilton Elementary/Middle School student

Gallery of the Kids’ Designs

Click or tap a subject below to see a drawing full-size

What a Playground Means to a Community

At the playground, kids experience joy, make new friends and learn how to get along. KABOOM! and the community of teachers, parents and kids at Hamilton Elementary/Middle School knew this. Teachers pushed for a new playground. Parents called on neighbors. Kids drew their own designs of what it could look like.

Each one of those was a spark — a spark for change — that led to the brand-new playground at Hamilton.

KABOOM! and our partners team up with communities across the country to ensure every kid has an amazing place to play. Together, we are working to achieve playspace equity — to ensure all kids have a safe, engaging place to play — no matter who they are, where they live, or the color of their skin.

And we have much more work to do. Too many kids — now and before the pandemic — still don’t have access to the playspaces they need to grow, learn and imagine, long into the future.

Share this story with your friends and neighbors. You can help KABOOM! team up with the next community to find their own sparks for change.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Stay up to date on our work and learn how you can help amplify the power of communities to build inspiring playspaces that spark unlimited opportunities for every kid, everywhere.