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Playground Design is More than an Exercise

ONE OF THE FAILINGS OF UNIVERSITY LEARNING is that the work of students sometimes can get left on the shelf. Assignments, though faithfully completed, too often don’t make it out of the theoretical.

So imagine the thrill for Curt Staats, a senior majoring in landscape architecture, to stand in a remote Honduran village and see one of his school projects come alive in grass, sand and stone.

Under the direction of professor Sam Dennis, Staats designed a children’s playground for the townspeople of Orica, a small village in central Honduras where his church has done service work. He and Dennis have since led two service-learning trips to the Central American country, where teams of students and community volunteers are working to build Staats’ vision.

“This is really the first big project I’ve worked on,” says Staats. “It’s pretty exciting to see it come together.”

The playground grew from a church trip to Honduras, during which Orica’s mayor described
his town’s need for a place for children to play. Staats, a former woodworker who returned to school to study landscape design, volunteered to lay out a playground on a patch of city land.

To design the park, Staats drew on Dennis’ research, which focuses on using natural elements to stimulate community and creative play. In Honduras, students have worked side-by-side with local laborers to make the design a reality, installing equipment, planting gardens and hauling sand from a nearby river to fill sandboxes.

“We’re carrying blocks or digging a trench together, and that becomes a way for us to have something in common,” says Dennis. “It’s a true partnership that continues to deepen over time.”

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