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SPARK Week Celebrates 40 Years of Transforming Houston School Parks

By Kathleen Coleman

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    October 25, 2023 (Houston Style Magazine) — In an exciting endeavor to rejuvenate and enhance community spaces, the SPARK School Park Program is thrilled to announce the upcoming SPARK Week, taking place from November 13th to 17th. This celebration marks a significant milestone in their journey, as they embark on a mission to build or “re-SPARK” 40 school parks in the Greater Houston area, all part of their remarkable $10 million campaign.

Generous contributions from foundations and the public sector are fueling this initiative, with the goal of revitalizing these essential green oases in the heart of Houston neighborhoods. SPARK Week promises a series of official dedications at several schools throughout the Houston area, graced by elected officials, SPARK staff and Board members, school administrators, students, and various stakeholders who recognize the vital role these parks play in their communities.

The schools set to shine during the SPARK Week dedication include:

Helms Elementary School – Tuesday, November 14 at 9 a.m. (The Heights area)

Field Elementary School – Wednesday, November 15 at 1:30 p.m. (The Heights area)

Port Houston Elementary School – Thursday, November 16 at 9 a.m. (Near Port of Houston)

Cornelius Elementary School – Friday, November 17 at 9 a.m. (Southeast Houston)

Edison Middle School – Friday, November 17 at 2 p.m. (East side)

Additionally, Rosa Parks Elementary School in Fort Bend ISD will host a SPARK dedication on Friday, December 1, with more dedications slated for 2024.

Driving this ambitious campaign are the Kinder Foundation, established by Nancy and Rich Kinder, and the Houston Endowment, each contributing a remarkable $3.5 million to make this dream a reality. Additionally, The Brown Foundation has generously donated $1 million to the cause. With $8 million already secured, the campaign is now entering the public phase, showcasing the collective effort to transform these 40 parks.

Kathleen Ownby, Executive Director of SPARK, expresses her excitement, saying, “SPARK is excited to move forward with our 40 schools in four years plan, with SPARK Week kicking things off. We are indebted to private donors and the public sector for generously supporting our continued efforts to positively impact Houston’s green infrastructure by transforming school playgrounds into community parks. It’s important that families, children, and other community members have access to parks and greenspaces close to home for their physical and mental well-being.”

SPARK, conceived in 1983 by Houston City Council Member Eleanor Tinsley, aims to create functional, attractive neighborhood parks and broaden access to greenspaces by utilizing public school land, particularly in underserved areas. Over the past four decades, SPARK has collaborated with schools in 18 different districts in Harris County and Fort Bend County, making playgrounds accessible as community parks after school, on weekends, and during holidays.

Each SPARK park boasts a unique design, shaped by the ideas and needs of the school and its surrounding neighborhood, with inputs from the school’s PTA/PTO, local civic clubs, and community members. Though distinct in their own right, a typical SPARK park includes modular playground equipment, a walking trail, benches, picnic tables, trees, an outdoor classroom, and a public art component.

Zaira Gomez, Principal of Cornelius Elementary School, couldn’t contain her enthusiasm, stating, “The Cornelius community is beyond ecstatic about our reSPARK. This project has become the pride and heart of our surrounding neighborhoods. We already see the positive impact it is creating amongst our students, parents, and community members.”

The SPARK Park Desert initiative aligns seamlessly with Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Houston Parks Master Plan, which strives to ensure that all citizens are within a 10-minute walk of a park or greenspace. The investment in SPARK Parks in identified areas of need offers countless benefits to people of all ages and backgrounds. On September 20, 2023, SPARK received a City of Houston Proclamation for SPARK Day, celebrated during a press conference with the Mayor and key donors and stakeholders.

The list of new SPARK Parks for 2023-24 includes:

Rosa Parks Elementary – Fort Bend ISD

Martin Elementary – Alief ISD

Miller Intermediate – Alief ISD

Beverly Hills Intermediate – Pasadena ISD

Askew Elementary – Houston ISD

Pearl Hall Elementary – Pasadena ISD

Holmsley Elementary – CyFair ISD

Wilchester Elementary – Spring Branch ISD

Additionally, the following reSPARK’ed Parks are scheduled for 2023-24:

Edison Middle – Houston ISD

Port of Houston Elementary – Houston ISD

Baker Montessori – Houston ISD

Cornelius Elementary – Houston ISD

Hollibrook Elementary – Spring Branch ISD

Mading Elementary – Houston ISD

Travis Elementary – Houston ISD

Rodriguez Elementary – Houston ISD

The public is warmly invited to attend any of the dedications during SPARK Week, as these parks are designed for the enjoyment of everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods.

For more information about SPARK Parks, please visit their website at sparkpark.org.

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