Students get day in the park to plan one

Matt Harlow talks with students from Easterly Parkway Elementary School at Bernel Road Park on Thursday during a presentation on how the park was designed and constructed.
Matt Harlow talks with students from Easterly Parkway Elementary School at Bernel Road Park on Thursday during a presentation on how the park was designed and constructed. CDT photo

If Leilani Yandle could make her own playground, she’d include a climbing wall, a rope wall and a place to crawl through.

On Thursday afternoon, the 8-year-old was one of about 100 first- and second-grade Easterly Parkway Elementary School students who spent a day in the life of a park architect.

Two years ago, the State College Area School District teamed up with the ELA Group when the Bernel Road Park playground was under construction by the engineer and landscape firm.

It was part of ELA’s learning enrichment program, which regularly teams with schools for education-based activities.

ELA Principal-in-Charge Matt Harlow and marketing assistant Jackie Auman visited three elementary schools this month to give a presentation on the necessary steps of park design.

The duo visited Easterly Parkway, Park Forest and Lemont elementary schools for in-class appearances before students got to test the playground in the interaction phase.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Auman said.

The children got to play on the jungle gym, climb towers, swing across monkey bars and crawl through equipment.

When ELA initiated the event two years ago, each class wrote “thank you” letters that included their own park ideas, Auman said.

“They really catch on,” Auman said. “It’s allowing them to see where the park they play on every day comes from.”

The playground in the 75-acre Bernel Road Park is laid out like an airport to mimic the nearby University Park Airport, Harlow said.

“We always go into these projects with a vision and reason behind it,” Harlow said.

Harlow used a global positioning system to show the children what the playground looked like from an aerial view. It includes a climbing tower similar to an air-traffic control tower and a plane-shaped design near part of the playground that looked like a runway.

Second-grade teacher Danielle Zarnick said her students were enthusiastic about the event and that the school would likely partner with ELA again.

“They’re loving climbing and swinging on things and really enjoying being hands-on with what they’re learning in these seminars,” Zarnick said.

“They’re understanding that there is a need for a park in the community and coming up with their own ideas that are actually pretty creative.”

The presentations were followed by a question-and-answer period with the students and, later, the students will have the opportunity to design their own park as a classroom project, Zarnick said.

Adam Hallacher, 8, said he couldn’t wait to get back in the classroom so he could help design a jungle gym that would combine play equipment for people of all ages.

“A lot of people use it and like different things,” he said. “I learned that it takes a really long time to make.”

One thing most appreciated by the teachers was a trip to the park, so the children could learn something they couldn’t get in the classroom, Zarnick said.

“The best thing is seeing them get excited to be part for the experience, from thinking creatively to being hands-on,” Zarnick said.

“They’re absorbing information from what Matt is teaching them and seeing how it worked to make this park.”