Saturday, September 19, 2009

Article No. 3: Park(ing) Day in the UWS

     Meg McDonnell, teacher at the Lower School, and her
     students from The Calhoun School in the Upper West
     Side attach wishes to a biodegradable balloon and release
     them into the sky.
     "How can your wish help Mother Earth?" McDonnell asked
     her students. Hugo, 5, replied, "I want to world to be clean!"

     For more photos, visit: Flickr

Students snag parking spot to “reclaim the city”


     MANHATTAN — There was an unusual sight at the corner of West 80th Street and Broadway today. In the place of a typical roadside parking space were colorful activities including a bicycle-powered blender, biodegradable balloons, and a loom made from rags and PVC pipe.
     Passersby stopped, scratched their chins and craned their necks to get a better view. But they still weren’t sure what was going on.
     Fortunately, the hosts of the street-side celebration, sixth-grade students from The Calhoun School, were happy to fill in the blanks.
     “It’s Park(ing) Day,” said Clark Vaccaro, 11, the lead student organizer of the event.
     Park(ing) Day, according to the official Park(ing) Day NYC Web site, “is an international event that reclaims parking spots and transforms them into engaging, people-friendly public spaces for one day a year.” This year it fell on Sept. 18.
     Clark was inspired by the international effort, but says he has a different idea of what it means to him and his peers.
     “Some people say we’re reclaiming the city, but I don’t think of it that way,” Clark said. “I say this city is made for people, not cars.  That’s why we’re here.”
     Clark and his father, Steve Vaccaro, are members of Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit organization that describes itself as “an advocate for cycling, walking, and mass transit as the most sensible alternatives to automobile dependency.” T.A. is a partner in the Park(ing) Day phenomenon, which is how Clark found out about this unique idea.
     “The idea’s been around for a while,” Clark said. “I’m just working with the school to bring it here.”
     Throughout the day, teachers from The Calhoun School brought students of all ages to take part in the celebration. And pedestrians on the street even stopped in to listen and learn.
     Beth Krieger, director of communications at The Calhoun School, said she was impressed with Clark’s initiative to make this celebration come together.
     “When students come up with ideas, we try to encourage them and really promote (their ideas),” Krieger said.
     The Calhoun School, according to its Web site, is “a progressive, coeducational, college preparatory school for students in early childhood through twelfth grade.” The Lower School, for children ages three through first grade, is at 160 W. 74th St. The main location is at 433 West End Ave.
     “At Calhoun, we promote social activism, which is very much a part of the school’s mission,” Krieger said. “We want to teach kids to be citizens now rather than later.”
     The activities at the celebration were designed to be both fun and environmentally focused. There was a bicycle-powered blender that made smoothies from ice, fruit and yogurt; a loom in which students used rags to weave a colorful tapestry; and biodegradable balloons attached with environmental wishes attendees released.
     And the students had a blast soaking up the fun and the meaning behind it.
     Fourth-grader Lindsay Jackman, 9, donned a colorful “Go Green” T-shirt for the special day.
     “It’s really great to have an environmentally happy day,” Lindsay chirped. “I like the smoothie the best because you get a hard workout and then you get to enjoy what you made.”
     Lucas Rogers, 11, is Clark’s classmate who helped him organize the event. Even though he hopes everyone had fun, he says the message behind it all is even more important.
     “We have to care about the earth,” Lucas said.  “Most of all, I hope (attendees) realize the importance of going green and environmental protection.”
     Steve Nelson is the head of school at Calhoun and said the Park(ing) Day event is the kind of thing they encourage their students to do, in and out of the classroom.
     “We ought to think abut how we affect the world,” Nelson said. “They have to think about what it means to be citizens.”
     Lisa Freedman, Clark’s mother, described the day as more than just a family and school-wide project. She said it was also an effort in community outreach.
     “It’s a great teaching tool for the younger kids, but it’s a chance for the older kids to share ideas with the adults around them, too,” Freedman said. “It’s hard, though. Especially because strangers don’t even talk to each other in New York.”
     But Clark and his peers didn’t seem to have any trouble in that department. They handed out pamphlets and smoothies, and chatted up everyone who walked by.
     “This is something people of all ages can enjoy,” Clark said. “I just hope it gives everyone a great sense of enjoyment and togetherness.”
     For more information, visit

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