PATERSON, NJ - Principal Rosalie Bespalko expects a little bit of extra laughing and screaming when her students arrive at School 19 Monday morning.
“They’re going to be excited, they’re going to ask ‘when can we play on it?’” the long time Paterson educator said of the new playground that will greet the children arriving for class. “It’s going to be a special time for them.”
Bespalko assured TAPinto Paterson that she’d overlook the noise, and, in fact, hopes to be able to work in a bit of extra playtime for all of the classes because, “playing is learning, it helps children learn to get along and share space.”
In a matter of just a few hours on Saturday, thanks to the work of dozens of volunteers, and the support of the Paterson Public Schools, New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC), and Alexandra’s Playground, what was blacktop on Friday has been transformed into a new play space, complete with several pieces of playground equipment. The once bare blacktop on the other side of the school is now adorned with newly painted spaces for children to play ball games.
Alexandra’s Playground is a non-profit organization launched in memory of Alexandra Vitale who lost her life in a sailing accident in 2008. Since her death, her parents, Dr. Michael and Andrea Vitale, have led the construction of 29 playgrounds, including seven in Paterson. Each project, they say, is constructed in the spirit of play of their daughter who was just three years old when they lost her.
“What better way to honor the legacy of Alexandra,” Mayor Andre Sayegh, who previously presented the Vitales with a key to the city said. “This is a proud moment and a banner day for Paterson.”
Taking to Facebook Live after the ribbon was cut Sayegh reminded viewers that improving parks and playgrounds is a priority of his Administration, and specifically the city’s recent entry into a national campaign to make sure all residents are only a 10-minute walk to a park.
Joining Sayegh at the celebration was Paterson City Council President Maritza Davilla, 2nd Ward Councilman Shahin Khalique, and 5th Ward Councilman Luis Velez. Deputy Superintendent of Schools Susan Peron was also on hand to offer her gratitude to the volunteers that helped construct the "safe haven."
When asked about the events leading up to the playground construction Bespalko was quick to give praise to two mothers, Sailys Cabral and Carrie Gonzalez, whose children were former students at School 19, another indicator, she offered, of how important it is for parents to be involved in student’s education.
“Children are successful when their parents are part of their education, when their parents know what’s going on,” Bespalko said. “Whether that’s reading a book or building a playground.”
Reflecting that the previous space was just broken asphalt, lacking railings, and in “bad condition” Gonzalez said that though it took four years it was “amazing to see it done.”
“NJCDC helped from the start,” Gonzalez said, adding that the non-profit with a mission of supporting children and families in the Paterson Great Falls Promise Neighborhood through education, housing, and more, “provided tools for parents, were at every meeting, always their rallying with us.”
“We understand that a neighborhood that works includes safe places for children to play,” Bob Guarasci, Founder and President of NJCDC said as he watched several young volunteers put the finishing touches on the new artwork.
Now, for the 12th time, seven of them with Alexandra’s Playground, NJCDC has succeeded in bringing that safe place to local children.
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.