BALTIMORE — During the turmoil of the pandemic and all of the changes that are becoming the "new normal", one thing remains the same: the importance of ensuring our children are taken care of not only mentally and creatively, but physically as well.
Baltimore City Public Schools, UnitedHealthcare and KABOOM! have partnered together to do just that.
UnitedHealthCare's mission is to help people live healthier lives and that of course, includes children.
"When you think about the future of our kids, they're still susceptible to if they're not staying active, if they're not staying healthy, childhood obesity continues to be a concern and certainly we know that obesity can turn to diabetes. And so when I think about our under-served areas, particularly in Baltimore County, the ability to allow children to be active and out really, we can all remember starts with a playground," said CEO of UnitedHealthcare Mid-Atlantic, Joe Ochipinti. "So through the efforts of Kaboom, UnitedHealthcare and Hamilton Middle/Elementary School, we put out on a project to build a playground for the kids."
The playground which was built at the end of September was made possible not only from the partnerships, but with the creativity of the Baltimore families and kids, because they were able to design the space.
In July, students at Hamilton Elementary participated in Virtual Design Day where they thought of ideas to create their dream playground and the playground was built from inspiration from those drawings.
"Hamilton Elementary/Middle School is part of that long-term commitment to Baltimore kids and families, also to our communities and achieving place-based equity," explained Nabeeha Hutchins, Vice President of Programs at KABOOM!. "What that means for Kaboom is ensuring that every kid, regardless of race, ethnicity, family income or zip code has an amazing, inspiring, safe place to play."
Playgrounds are something that can not only bring joy to the kids themselves, but can also bring communities together and be helpful, critical part to child development. At KABOOM!, they're asking the question of why some children have these play spaces while others either don't have them at all or lack access to them.
"We asked that question in Baltimore, just as we are asking that question across the country and our research in Baltimore showed that there are 39 elementary school play spaces that are not fit for play and when play spaces are not fit for play, they're not fit for kids," Hutchins explained.
Hutchins says that research showed that the play spaces in Baltimore schools that need updating or upgrading are also schools that have more black students and where there's a higher number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
This is a reality that is not just unique to Baltimore, but across the country. Aside from children lacking access to the spaces during COVID, even when restrictions are lifted, Hutchins says there's far too many kids who will never have access to a play space.
"This happens consistently in communities with the history of disinvestment in our country, it's a result of structural racism and it disproportionately affects Black and Brown kids," Hutchins said. "They're the ones who don't get to play and we need to correct for that."
Hutchins says that they can solve for this in Baltimore. She says that in the city, they are 56 percent of the way there in terms of revitalizing, updating and rebuilding these places spaces so that they're fit for play and for kids.
Over their 24 year trajectory, they've built 17,000 place spaces and that have reached 11 million kids.
Currently, the playground is open following the school's guidelines, but as we've witnessed things have changed almost daily in terms of restrictions. What will remain the same however is that these playgrounds are a new place for kids to play to expand their imagination and creativity.