Peabody Elementary wants its own KaBoom! in landscaping

By Lurene Kelley

Peabody Elementary has been in the heart of this neighborhood long before the community was called “Cooper-Young,” but is the school really in the hearts of CY residents? That’s the question school administrators would like its neighbors and local business owners to answer with a resounding ‘yes’… and some money, ideas, and elbow grease to back it up.

[singlepic id=250 w=320 h=240 float=right]According to the school’s principal, Kongsouly Jones, because Peabody is a desirable optional school, approximately 50 percent of the student body comes from open enrollment. This means that nearly half of the children at Peabody live outside its designated boundaries.

Mandy Grisham, a member of the Peabody Leadership Board, says the first step in giving the school a more neighborhood feel is obvious – have more children who live in and around Cooper-Young enrolled at Peabody. This fall, approximately 10 children from the Cooper-Young Parents Network (CYPN), parents who live in or near the neighborhood, will be enrolled in this year’s kindergarten class (In fact, my own child will be among these kindergartners.)

“Cooper-Young is overflowing with young families who want the best for their children’s’ education. The CYPN currently has 70 members representing over 60 families and over 100 children. Only a handful of these kids are school age,” Grisham says. “If Cooper-Young wants to keep these young families in the neighborhood, education is a key component.”

In the last year, the CYPN has hosted 3 education forums to allow parents to talk candidly about educational decisions. As a result, Grisham says more families are committing early on to sending their children to Peabody. She calls this “a neighborhood, grassroots movement” that she believes will continue to grow.

Grisham claims that the second step in making Peabody an integral part of Cooper-Young is through the involvement of the many individuals who have shops and restaurants in the CY area. Central BBQ owner and Cooper-Young resident, Elizabeth Blondis, is asking fellow CY entrepreneurs to become adopters of Peabody Elementary. This means that businesses like Central BBQ would not only back Peabody with donations of money or goods, but also get involved with the school. For example, a chef from a local restaurant might give lessons to the school’s cooking club or a local artist could help with class projects. “We have so many talented people in Cooper-Young,” says Blondis, “it just makes sense that we use these gifts to make Peabody an even better school.”

You don’t have to be a business owner to lend your talents to the school. The Peabody Leadership Board want everyone to get involved, such as a community garden on the grounds of the elementary school. One that is planted, tended, and harvested by local residents and students.

The Leadership Board recently surveyed the school’s teachers to find out what they believe to be their most pressing needs. The two areas that repeatedly surfaced in the survey were landscaping of the school’s entrance and improvements for the library. Based on feedback from the school administration, building the library’s holdings is a long-term goal that would take an entire year. The school believes, however that the landscaping project could happen relatively quickly. By rallying the support of local business owners and residents, work could begin as early as July.

Grisham believes that the landscaping project could be similar to the KaBoom! playground on the grounds of Peabody, a community effort that involved 200 volunteers building an entire playground in one weekend. Built in 2008, the playground has become an asset to the school and the entire neighborhood. It serves as a gathering spot for community events, and is used regularly by neighborhood children as well.

“If everyone works together, meaning residents, with and without children, and businesses, we make the community more livable. It’s a neighborhood where we walk our children to school, walk to restaurants, promote staying in our community,” says Blondis. This fall, Blondis will walk her own kindergartner to Peabody each morning. It’s a scene reminiscent of simpler times. But, as Blondis points out, it’s not just about re-creating a Norman Rockwell painting. Community investment in Peabody has practical roots. “Even if you don’t have kids, it’s as simple as this. A true, strong neighborhood school raises property values. It makes Cooper-Young an even more desirable place to live.”

These changes take place at a symbolic moment in Peabody’s history. This fall, the school will celebrate its 100th year. Supporters of more neighborhood involvement believe this historic school could provide an even brighter future for Cooper -Young. “It’s crucial for Cooper-Young residents and businesses to become more involved with Peabody, regardless of whether they have children or not,” says Principal Jones. “These children are the future of our community and education is essential in the development and prosperity of a community. It just makes good sense to invest in something that can only benefit everyone in Cooper-Young.”

If you would like more information about how to become an adopter of Peabody Elementary, contact Elizabeth Blondis at 901-237-6984, or if you would like to join the Cooper-Young Parents’ Network, send a request to

Lurene Kelley is a professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Memphis.


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