Hundreds gathered Jan. 30 at Kyrene de la Paloma Elementary School in Chandler for the dedication ceremony of Janet Tobias Harmony Park – named in honor of the school’s beloved principal who died last August.
The park, located on school property, features six permanent instruments for students to play during recess and after school.
The park “represents a broad vision of our belief about what students should have access to when they’re learning,” said Dr. Stephanie Leake, Paloma’s current principal. “It’s beyond books, it’s beyond standards.”
Back in 2015, Tobias proposed revamping the underutilized green space to create a spot for students to experiment with music and sound.
“Music was her big passion,” said Terri Kimble, president and CEO of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, which helped organize the dedication ceremony. “Everything was about empowering the students.”
Under Tobias’ leadership, the school’s PTA organized a sponsored golf tournament and raised $20,000 to fund the park. Future plans included up to six additional instruments, benches and a shade structure.
Tobias, 57, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on Aug. 31 before a date could be set to dedicate the updated park.
“Janet’s passing was ... a great tragedy for the community,” said Kimble.
Tobias was Paloma’s principal for 10 years and played an active role in the school as well as in the Chandler arts community, according to Kimble and Paloma faculty.
Following her death, the PTA and the broader Paloma community raised additional dollars to fund the rest of the park features Tobias had envisioned.
“We accomplished so much more than we thought we would,” said Leake.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, students, parents, faculty and local leaders gathered in the park and surrounded the newly installed instruments.
Robert Sinkule of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce urged the crowd to shout “Harmony Park” in a voice “so loud Janet can hear it.”
Following the ceremony, children gathered around to try out their new instruments. The preschool through 5th grade elementary school now boasts a set of drums, a harp, a “flower” and several instruments resembling xylophones.
The harp and flower are the newest additions to the park, along with a plaque honoring Tobias. Plans for a shade structure is in the works.
Paloma parent Shaunette Fortson watched her two daughters experiment with the instruments. Fortson said she enrolled them in Paloma because of the school’s arts integration curriculum.
Despite Tobias’ sudden death, Fortson said that the school had done a good job of helping students through the grieving process while maintaining the environment that had been fostered by Tobias.
“Her vision has continued with the children,” Fortson said.
The instruments, which are tuned to different levels, produce sounds similar to windchimes when struck with attached mallets.
“(The instruments) are resonated,” explained Paloma’s music educator Michelle Bobb. “When you hit the bar theres a pipe underneath and the sound will travel through the pipe and resonate outwards … that’s why the sound feels so round.”
The music the children make with the instruments can be heard throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
“They have so much fun out there,” said Nathalia Korda, an instructional assistant who also has two children enrolled at Paloma.
“I just love the sound it makes,” she said. “The whole community kinda hears it.”
Friends and colleagues of Tobias praised her dedication to her students and her tireless involvement in the greater Chandler community.
“(Tobias) made each and every person she met better for knowing her,” said Kimble. “I just hope I leave that kind of legacy.”
For Leake, the ribbon-cutting event symbolized the resilience of the Paloma community.
“We are a strong family at Paloma,” Leake said. “Despite the sadness we feel, we know that we can accomplish anything when we work together.”