Upham's Corner Online

Peace Garden for the Winthrop School

Posted: April 19, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Winthrop SchoolWalter Henderson and Sophia Rice worked as a team to put together a beautification project for the Winthrop School for April 16, 2011, Global Youth Services Day.  

Mr. Henderson is in his second year as Principal of the John Winthrop Elementary School.  Ms. Rice serves as Manager of Extended Learning Services, bringing resources and community partners to the school and letting the community know about the school. 

 "I've always had a vision," Mr. Henderson stated, "that the Winthrop School would be a beacon of light and a positive attraction and hope to the neighborhood.  I wanted us to stand out with a positive message:  There is new leadership here at the Winthrop - instructionally and also within the community. But what I saw was very dull looking school walls - not speaking, not saying anything positive."

After his first year at the Winthrop School, Principal Henderson knew he needed someone to help out with community services and support systems.   He could not personally handle that role because managing 300+ children and a 46 member staff was a full-time job. 

"I feel that we were blessed by divine intervention.  I got a call from Ms. Rice who wanted to volunteer with exactly the community networking skill set I had in mind. Her heart is for the children.  She has been a godsend."

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Both Mr. Henderson and Ms. Rice came up with the scope of the project for the playground.  "Not only do the Winthrop kids use the playground but so does the neighborhood.  Our idea was: Let's have it pop." 

Mr. Henderson continues:
  1. Last year we had a new mural painted in the large playground.  And today the workers are improving that mural by adding to it around the existing mural.  
  1. We also saw that our students struggle with knowing where they are in the world - from the school to their city, state and nation. We wanted to include murals of the United States and the planet.  By looking at their place in the universe on a daily basis, they can become more familiar with it and their place in the world. 
  1. I pass by Dacia Street every day, where the houses across the street stare out at our gray retaining walls sometimes dotted with graffiti and gang symbols.  The city paints over the walls but they always look like an open canvas for violence. I wanted our students to pass by something very positive. 
The Louis D. Brown Peace Garden was Sophia Rice's idea.   Louis D Brown was a 15 year old youth who had lived a peaceful life.  He chose as a child to be a peace agent.  On Dec. 20, 1993, walking to a peace rally event, Louis was caught in gunfire (in Field's Corner).  As an outcome of the grieving and healing process his mother, Tina Chery, created the Louis D Brown Peace Institute in 1994. 

"I told Tina that every school in Boston should have a peaceful space where children and families in the community can go when they are grieving or they want to celebrate someone they have lost.  We really need Louis' presence here because it is a reminder to all of us that we have to be peaceful.  Our children have to learn early on how to live a peaceful life and how to resolve conflict by talking, not by shooting."

City Year "If a child is having issues in the school or seems stressed, a teacher may say: Let's go into the peace garden and chat.  Teachers can use this space to facilitate conversations with children.  The principles of peace will be displayed on the benches.  Children will have the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts in a peaceful way." 

Mr. Henderson expressed his appreciation.  "Ms. Rice made it all happen.  She contacted City Year, the Boston Center for Youth and Families (Ryan Fitzgerald), the Department of Parks and Recreation and other Winthrop school partners."

View City Year announcement and photos of their GYSD (Global Youth Services Day) at the Winthrop.
Both Mr. Henderson and Ms. Rice said they were "super-excited about all the activity taking place at the school today.  It is great to see so many volunteers coming out to make a difference, from little children to adults to grandparents."

Who showed up?  City Year, Boston University basketball team members, neighbors and school staff!!
A little bit about Mr. Henderson's background - In 2002 he made a decision to leave financial services.  He felt called to teaching and tested this out by being a substitute teacher. "From that I knew right away that I wanted to teach and then go into leadership.  I felt that we needed to have impact and to change policy in order to create a powerful environment for students to learn."

He has worked as both a 3rd and 5th grade teacher and particularly liked 5th grade.  He completed a Masters in Special Education from Cambridge College and a Masters in Education and Administration from UMass Boston.  He was also named the Red Sox foundation teacher of the year for his mentoring practice.  He applied for, and completed the Principal Residency Program.  Superintendent Johnson assigned him to the Winthrop.

The John Winthrop School is part of the "Circle of Promise" established by Mayor Menino and Dr. Carol Johnson which allows the school to leverage the existing partnerships in the Circle of Promise and put the organization's vision into practice.

The Winthrop School sends a message of hope to other Boston Public schools. 

"We are but one member school of the Boston community (Dorchester) yet it is our experience that community partners were (are) waiting with open arms to lend a helping hand on behalf of the families and children in our community.  We are deeply grateful for all the help provided.

We want to send a message of hope to all of the Boston Public Schools:  Take ownership of your circumstances, reflect and reach out to the greater community. They are waiting to hear from you and get involved."

The John Winthrop School is located in the B2 District of the Boston Police Department.

"Captain John Davin has provided unwavering and immediate support to us which has allowed us to comfortably do the work we do on behalf of our families. 

He has provided us police detail (at no expense to us) and has made other contributions out of the goodness of his heart and with the support of his Superiors.

We are extremely grateful for this relationship, which has become more than just a partnership.  He is part of the Winthrop family...and we are happy to have him."

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