Cambridgeport School bench plants peaceful place at start of school year

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The Cambridgeport Peace Bench, designed by parent Alex van Praagh, is enjoyed by students Tuesday at a dedication ceremony at The Cambridgeport School. (Photo: Jesse Nahan)
The Cambridgeport Peace Bench, designed by parent Alex van Praagh, is enjoyed by students Tuesday at a dedication ceremony at The Cambridgeport School. (Photo: Jesse Nahan)

Tucked snugly in the middle of a residential block on Elm Street, Cambridgeport School rests comfortably against the backdrop of Area IV’s diverse and historic neighborhood. It has sought to build bridges within the school community by launching a Partner Family Program that matches incoming families to current families. It also imbeds reflection into many moments of the school day and throughout the curriculum.

To kick off the school year with a reminder of these values of bridge-building and reflection, the JK–5 school took time during an annual potluck in the playground Sept. 10 to dedicate a newly constructed combination garden planter and bench to peace. Officiating at the school’s request was Brian Corr, the city’s Peace Commission director. The brief ceremony celebrated the efforts of many to create a structure that, as Corr reminded, could function as “a place where young people who may be having a disagreement on the playground can come and spend time among the plants and the garden to resolve conflicts, or where others in the community can sit in quiet contemplation and think about the role of peace in their own lives.”

Left unspoken amid these words of peace but perhaps evoked in the minds of some attendees were thoughts of world conflicts in the news, or even memories of earlier in the year when the neighborhood faced sadness and disbelief to discover that the alleged Boston Marathon bombers had lived, worked and gone to school nearby.

Paid for with a grant from Lowes Home Improvement and with contributions from parents through the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, the planter and bench was specially designed and built by Cambridgeport parent Alex van Praagh to be an interactive structure that would take advantage of underutilized space and increase the quantity of edible and ornamental plants grown on the school’s property. As they do for every Cambridge public elementary school, CitySprouts staff and volunteers will ensure the planter is filled and ready for use by students as part of the CitySprouts garden curriculum. And because the bench sits so close to the kindergarten playground, it will serve as an outdoor gathering place for kindergarteners to listen to stories or the sounds of nature.

“It’s so wonderful that you’ve been able to get funds and support and help to build this bench,” Corr said. “As a parent of an older child I know that when kids are that age, it’s great to have some place to be calm and sit with other kids and just kind of relax. And to have a time-out without being in a corner somewhere.”

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