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UCHS Students Build a Lions' Den

lions den at UCHS

Members of Black Academy at U. City High School pose on furniture they built in the outdoor courtyard they created for students to safely gather during COVID-19.

UCHS Students Build a Lions' Den

By Heather Gain
Special to SDUC

A simple challenge sparked the idea for the Lions' Den.

This fall teachers at University City High School asked the students in its Black Academy to come up with a solution to a COVID problem: How can students gather in community yet maintain health and safety standards?

The students were inspired to roll up their sleeves and build an outdoor lounge called the Lions' Den in an underutilized ara at the high school. The space, which once hosted the school’s handball courts, was a a rather unsightly asphalt-covered courtyard between buildings near the stadium. 

The spruced-up area now boasts picnic tables, outdoor seating, potted plants, and a privacy fence almost completely made from recycled materials. lions den checker board  

“We started it because of COVID, but it’s really for long term plans,” said Stella Cardes, a senior. “We wanted a place for students to go for lunch, pre-game barbeques and maybe an outdoor classroom.”

Students transformed old tires into chairs, flowerpots and artwork. They constructed a sofa and a coffee table from wood pallets. They brightened the space with leftover paint. They spent 6 weeks planning and building and then revealed their work to the community during an outdoor gathering Wednesday, Nov. 4.

Students tossed a Frisbee and played a giant checkers gameboard built into one of the tables. Others talked while they enjoyed snacks and music. Everyone wore a mask and spaced themselves at a safe distance.

Lion's Den picnic table

Sophomore Mouhamed Ly said he was proud of the work. During virtual learning, he had been stuck at home with little motivation. 

“It’s better to try to do something. Get outside and work towards a goal,” he said. 

Mouhamed said he hopes his fellow students will take care of the space and keep it clean.

More improvements are coming. The members of Black Academy enlisted help from the student council, environment club, and art students. They will be adding murals, signage, and more activities to the space.

Cardes said the project gave her a chance to build her leadership skills. 

“I learned to become more of a leader and step up to get things done,” she said. 

UCHS Principal Michael Peoples said the Lions' Den project was student-directed work with teacher guidance. Educators call it Project-Based Learning, which is a best practice that many schools are trying to implement.

“I am beyond proud of the collaboration between staff and students,” Peoples said. 

Stephen Wurst, a career and technology teacher, said he didn't realize how much he missed in-person learning until he reunited with the students to work on the project.

"One of the great outcomes of this project-based activity was that every student got to use their own unique talents that contributed to the designing, building, and promoting of the Lion's Den outside courtyard," Wurst said. "The Lion's Den is filled with Lion's pride".

Black Academy is made up of a group of students excelling in their virtual schoolwork, achieving good grades, and keeping up attendance. Pallet couch in Lion's Den