The joyful sounds of students laughing and playing during recess at Ralph Waldo Emerson School 58 are just as common as what you’ll hear on any school playground.
The difference at this IPS eastside school is what you see — or don’t see. Try finding the kids making those sounds and you’ll be hard-pressed to locate them. They’re not behind, on the side, or in front of the school.
But look up — yes up — and you’ll get an idea of where the sounds are coming from. High above the school, actually on the rooftop, is the school’s playground.
Why? Ralph Waldo Emerson is landlocked. The school sits on the corner of a cramped residential neighborhood along busy New York Street, with cars zipping by.
Principal Jean Ely said the school didn’t have an actual playground before the renovation in 2013 because of limited space. “The parking lot was the playground!”
During renovation, officials decided to use the available outdoor space above the gym to create a place for students to release that built-up energy throughout the day.
“It’s great that they were able to give our scholars a fun and exciting play space,” said Ely. “The rooftop playground is a very creative way to address limited opportunities for playground space. This is a pretty awesome recreational space and it offers a bird’s-eye view of our city.”
The location doesn’t faze younger students, who consider it the same as any other playground — just without the swings.
Kathy Avery’s third-graders were enjoying their recess time on the padded, blacktop roof on a recent afternoon, oblivious to how close they were to the tops of trees in the neighborhood — and to the clouds in the sky.
Students were running and playing on the school’s slide and jungle gym, shooting hoops on the two basketball goals and playing an impromptu game of soccer. Some were simply chasing each other around in circles.
However, parents and older students immediately have questions when they find out where the playground is located.
“Some are very surprised and have a hard time imagining that it’s possible to have a playground on the roof until they get the grand tour,” said Ely. “One of the first questions from some of the scholars is, ‘How do we not fall off?’ The parents often ask, ‘How do you keep the balls from going over?’”
With the tall wrought-iron fence surrounding the rooftop playground, you would have to have the superhero powers of Spider Man to scale the walls.