Katie Militello, left, Jessica Nowicki and Kevin Loftus assemble a cozy dome on the new playground at Ascension School in Oak Park last Saturday. Faculty and parents gathered to assemble the school's first playground.DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer

A school playground has never been more welcome than at Oak Park’s Ascension School.

On Saturday, July 20, volunteers were out at Ascension, 601 Van Buren St., to put together the new playground for preschoolers. The would-be craftsmen, and women, worked from the early morning till around noon.

The playground is one piece to a larger vision for that grassy section near Ascension where the rectory once stood, says Principal Mary Jo Burns. The playground is built in a corner of the large green space. More outdoor recreational space is slated for the area, Burns said, including play space for the older students. But years of playing on asphalt just wasn’t cutting it anymore for the little kids, Burns said.

About two-dozen volunteers helped assemble the preschool playground. It cost about $40,000, including the price of a rubberized surface installed for students’ safety. The money comes from Ascension’s capital budget and from the kind donation of an unnamed family. The playground is expected to be completed by Aug. 20 when school starts.

“Play is an important part of their school, as important as academics,” Burns said. “This is really the starting point for our, what we call our Safe Play Plans. We’d like to do something for our older kids, and would like to do it in that open space.”

St. Bernardine parents choose Ascension

A dozen families whose children previously attended the now-closed St. Bernardine Catholic School in Forest Park will enroll their students in Oak Park’s Ascension School this fall.


Some St. Bernardine parents have chosen to send their kids to River Forest’s St. Luke Parish School, said Ascension Principal Mary Jo Burns. Ascension, she adds, reached out to the parents after St. Bernardine announced its closure earlier this spring. The Forest Park school had been around for 98 years and was that area’s only Catholic school. It closed, in part, due to dwindling enrollment.


Ascension’s enrollment, which has been trending upward in recent years, is around 480 students. The school has maintained a steady enrollment of around 475 students, Burns said.


“It’s an attractive school. Our test scores are above average. Our K-8 program is very appealing to parents. And we’re a Catholic school, which many families are looking for,” Burns said.


Ascension, Burns adds, also offers small class sizes—some with less than 20 students—which parents like.


“It’s very sad when a Catholic school closes because it’s been a part of these kids’ daily life,” Burns said. “I think we offer a real strong alternative as a Catholic school for families and we’ll be very nice and kind to those families who come to us.”

Oh, for a playground

There’s a bump on the back of my bald head. Been there since the fourth grade. That’s the year at Ascension School when I once again failed to master Four Square.


The 100-year-old school has never had a playground till now. So as kids we played on the Courtyard, an asphalt parking lot, tucked between the church, the school and the old, and since demolished, rectory. In the alley between the church and school Four Square patches were painted on the asphalt. It was there, during a spring lunch hour, that I stepped backward wondering where the ball had gone. “Ah, under my foot, that’s where!” And backwards I fell, cracking my head on a brick edge to a window.


I was more embarrassed than hurt until I put my hand to the back of my head and wondered, “What’s all wet back there?” (Yes, I know, I was not a perceptive child.)


Blood aplenty and a trip upstairs to the nurse’s office. There Mrs. Madden washed it off, bandaged it and sent me back to class. The next day she flagged me down, took a look at my head and said, “Yeah, you probably should have had stitches. Now go to class.”


So Ascension kids, enjoy the new playground. And watch out for the missing ball in Four Square.

-Dan Haley

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