Press Release: Work Begins to Create "Living Schoolyards" at Oakland Schools Through a Collaborative Partnership

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Melrose Leadership Academy Is First of Five Schools to See Addition

Oakland, CA -- With less than two weeks to go before the 2018-19 school year begins, schools across Oakland are getting ready. At Melrose Leadership Academy (MLA), work is now underway to make the campus more green and, in the process, help children learn.

Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), The Trust for Public Land, and Green Schoolyards America announced their partnership at MLA, the first of five schools to serve as demonstration sites where asphalt covered schoolyards will be transformed into green or “living” schoolyards. The partners will also collaborate on a district policy, funding strategy and joint use agreements to ensure more OUSD’s schoolyards become healthier and more climate resilient.

 At Melrose Leadership Academy, work is now underway to make the campus greener and help children learn outside. The demolition work is being graciously donated by DPR Construction through a Melrose parent. Many thanks to DPR! Photo credit: the trust for public land

At Melrose Leadership Academy, work is now underway to make the campus greener and help children learn outside. The demolition work is being graciously donated by DPR Construction through a Melrose parent. Many thanks to DPR! Photo credit: the trust for public land

“Working with The Trust for Public Land, Green Schoolyards America and the community provides Oakland Unified School District with added resources and technical expertise that we need to improve the learning environment for our students,” said Kyla Johnson-Trammell, OUSD Superintendent.

“This effort will also create healthier conditions at our schools, and get our students to think more globally and be more environmentally conscious.” 
— Kyla Johnson-Trammell, OUSD Superintendent

The partnership focuses on increasing equity across the OUSD by prioritizing schools that serve low-income neighborhoods. The five demonstration schoolyards (Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, Markham Elementary School, Melrose Leadership Academy, Ralph J. Bunche High School, and two elementary schools that share a campus, International Community School and Think College Now) will receive community engagement, participatory design, asphalt removal and planting. The demonstration schools will also benefit from professional development from the Green Schoolyards America’s Principals’ Institute. Nearly 1,700 students attend these five schools and will directly benefit from the transformation, and a total of 30,000 people live within a 10-minute walk of these sites.

Alejandra Chiesa, Bay Area Program Director at The Trust for Public Land, said, “We are excited to begin transforming asphalt-covered schoolyards into park-like outdoor learning environments with trees, gardens and natural materials.  As a parent, I know schools are where children spend most of their time and everyone deserves a great park within a 10-min walk from home. By investing in school ground greening, students and the surrounding community gain daily exposure to nature and all its associated benefits.”

“Our temperature measurements indicate that on a sunny 65-70°F day in Oakland, unshaded asphalt surface temperatures can climb over 115°F and rubber matting is often more than 140°F. These conditions are not conducive to comfort or physical activity and can negatively impact children’s well-being,” said Sharon Danks, Executive Director of Green Schoolyards America. “By transforming these asphalt covered schoolyards into park-like environments, we can plant trees to shade and cool hot asphalt and reduce energy costs in adjacent buildings, while also improving the watershed by absorbing rain water. “Living schoolyards” also provide fantastic, engaging, place-based, hands-on learning resources right outside the classroom door, which makes it easier for teachers to immerse children in the natural world every day.” 

 This new partnership with Oakland Unified School District, Green Schoolyards America and The Trust for Public Land builds on an existing strong garden program in the District. In this photo, students at Hoover Elementary School Learn to about climate by measuring the temperature of their grounds, under the guidance of Sharon Danks and garden teacher, Wanda Stewart. Photo credit; Paige Green.

This new partnership with Oakland Unified School District, Green Schoolyards America and The Trust for Public Land builds on an existing strong garden program in the District. In this photo, students at Hoover Elementary School Learn to about climate by measuring the temperature of their grounds, under the guidance of Sharon Danks and garden teacher, Wanda Stewart. Photo credit; Paige Green.

“As our federal government steps back from the historic Paris Climate Accord, Oakland Unified School District is stepping up to address the impacts of climate change where we can, from the classroom to our schoolyards,” said OUSD Board of Education Director, Jody London “The Living Schoolyards Initiative brings together students, teachers, staff, families and the community in designing the environment they’d like to see.”

Tim White is Deputy Chief of Facilities at Oakland Unified School District and said, “OUSD remains committed to providing students with great learning facilities and outdoor spaces. Partnerships like this are essential to overcome some of the funding challenges we face. The need is great and OUSD cannot do it alone. We are extremely grateful for the continued engagement and support of so many non-profits partners and community members that have been working alongside OUSD to improve our schools.”

"Children who experience nature become adults who protect it.”
—Sam Schuchat, Executive Officer of the California State Coastal Conservancy
 student drawings from a schoolyard design workshop  earlier this year at Markham elementary school in oakland, led by Trust for Public Land and Green Schoolyards America.

student drawings from a schoolyard design workshop  earlier this year at Markham elementary school in oakland, led by Trust for Public Land and Green Schoolyards America.

Generous funders have provided key contributions toward this effort. The California State Coastal Conservancy Proposition 1 competitive Grant Program has provided a $566,000 grant to The Trust for Public Land. Other major contributors include Kaiser Permanente Northern California and the Hellman Foundation. 

“Living schoolyards are true multi-benefit projects,” said Sam Schuchat, Executive Officer of the California State Coastal Conservancy and Oakland resident. “Not only do they provide the important ecological services in our heavily urbanized watersheds, they are connecting the future generation of stewards with the natural world.  Children who experience nature become adults who protect it.” 

“This pilot of transforming asphalt-covered campuses with gardens and nature-filled outdoor classrooms will create beautiful park-like spaces that will inspire students and stimulate their creativity, as well as result in a healthier learning environment. The Hellman Foundation is delighted to support this partnership which will benefit thousands of students in Oakland and serve as learning opportunity for expansion across the district,” said Susan Hirsch, Executive Director of the Hellman Foundation.

"Research has long confirmed the mental and physical benefits of time well spent in safe, green spaces,” said Abhay Dandekar, MD, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland.  “We must create these healthy environments for developing minds and bodies as they learn and grow.  Revitalizing asphalt-covered schoolyards into outdoor learning and play spaces with trees and gardens will surely impact children and families now and for generations to come.”

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About The Trust for Public Land

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit www.tpl.org.

About Green Schoolyards America

Green Schoolyards America is a national organization that expands and strengthens the green schoolyard movement and empowers Americans to become stewards of their school and neighborhood environments. Our programs support the living school ground movement, build relationships that help it success, and work to embed this perspective in our existing institutions and policy and regulatory frameworks. www.greenschoolyards.org

About the Oakland Unified School District

In California’s most diverse city, Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is dedicated to creating a learning environment where “Every Student Thrives!” More than half of our students speak a non-English language at home. And each of our 86 schools is staffed with talented individuals uniting around a common set of values: Students First, Equity, Excellence, Integrity, Cultural Responsiveness and Joy. We are committed to preparing all students for college, career and community success. 

To learn more about OUSD’s Full Service Community District focused on academic achievement while serving the whole child in safe schools, please visit OUSD.org and follow us @OUSDnews.

Press Release Contact: John Sasaki, Communications Director, 510-214-2080, john.sasaki@ousd.org

Connecting Children with Nature in Cities and Schools: An International Perspective

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One of the unique resources that Green Schoolyards America is able to bring to our work is an extensive network of international colleagues that can provide different perspectives and expertise. The green schoolyards movement has been growing abroad for many years - as much as fifty or 100 in some places! Many of the techniques developed in each place are specific to its context and culture, but that does not mean we can't borrow and adapt!

Recently, at an event co-hosted by The Presidio Trust and Green Schoolyards America, the featured keynote speaker, Laís Fleury, Director of the Alana Institute in Rio de Janeiro and the Coordinator of the Children and Nature program in Brazil, shared how one organization is working to connect children with nature in Brazil.  The event was held in celebration of International School Grounds Month, with the collaboration of the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) and Evergreen. Laís, Cam Collyer, the Director of Programs at Evergreen, and Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America's CEO and Founder, are all members ISGA's Leadership Council - a special treat to have this international group of experts all together! 

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With the beautiful view of the Presidio's new greenway and the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop, Ms. Fleury took us on a virtual journey to Brazilian schoolyards, parks, and neighborhoods. She shared Alana’s inspiring work to mobilize society around issues related to childhood and children’s experiences of the natural world, her insights into Brazil’s educational environments, and Alana’s approach to fostering child development by promoting children’s contact with nature in an urban context.

The Brazilian context may actually sound similar to that of some of our most urban, under-resourced schools and districts. 85% of the population in Brazil lives in cities, with little to no green space. Inequality is high and danger and violence are real threats in many of the areas in which they work, including from ever-increasing car traffic. Lastly, as a nation, they are second behind the US in consumption of Ritalin, sparking increasing concern about mental health. 

On the flip side, there are a number of unique cultural and political factors that are actually supportive of connecting children to nature. As Ms. Fleury told the audience in her talk, federal law in Brazil is generally supportive of children. Though Brazilians may not see themselves as outdoor recreationists, the outdoors is actually deeply embedded in their lifestyle and culture. 

Alana takes a holistic approach, understanding that connection to nature is one piece of the puzzle for improving quality of life in Brazil, as are increasing access to housing and reducing violence and inequality. They focus on evidence-based approaches, citing studies that show low cortisol levels in children in low-income areas, which can make it harder for those children to do well in school, as reason to promote play and the use of schoolyards to master skills and develop an appetite for challenge - a character trait that predicts success farther down the road. Alana also works to help Brazilians recognize that nature is all around them already!

One of the things that Alana does best is to tell these stories through visual media. They have a platform called VIDEOCAMP that gathers social impact films, making them available for free public screenings. The films about children and nature focus on positive stories and have created compelling campaigns capturing the magic of childhood nature connection and its availability, even to city dwellers.  

Check out the video below and thank you to Laís and Alana for sharing your work with us!

For more information about future events in our lecture series, please click here to sign up for our mailing list.

Management and Maintenance: Creating Sustainable Systems

 Photo credit: Alejandra Chiesa

Photo credit: Alejandra Chiesa

Make it meaningful, make it practical, make it sustainable. This is our mantra ...
— Cam Collyer

Green Schoolyards America's work is all about making it easier for schools, districts, municipalities, and regions to develop and implement green schoolyards at scale, so that all children can have access to nature on a daily basis, right outside the classroom door. 

In our years of working directly with educators and school leaders, we know that one of the biggest assets in this work are the staff who manage and care for our schools' facilities and grounds on a daily basis. These folks have big jobs to do already, so it is important to understand their needs and concerns early in the process and to find solutions that benefit children and the environment, while taking into account maintenance and other uses of the space.

In May, we were fortunate to be able to host Cam Collyer, Executive Director of Programs for Evergreen, a Canadian charity that is “Inspiring action to green cities,” to share his insights in this area. Cam, who is a member of the International School Grounds Alliance Leadership Council and a board member of Green Schoolyards America, co-led a meeting of management and maintenance staff and nonprofit partners from three very different districts across the Bay Area. 

In his presentation, Cam shared an 18-year-old example of successful management and maintenance of green schoolyards from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Over that time, the Toronto District School Board has worked closely with Evergreen to integrate outdoor learning and school grounds development, and has established and evolved successful practices for school ground management and maintenance that keeps them running smoothly in this 580-school district. 

Some of the key points from Cam's presentation were:

  • Before Evergreen's partnership with the Toronto District School Board, there were as many failures as successes. Often projects were done with "all heart and no head," failed after a key parent or teacher left, or were limited to wealthier, more well-resourced schools. 
  • By adding "school ground greening" and ecological literacy to their waste minimization and energy conservation program (EcoSchools), the system saves money and the work on the school grounds serves to motivate other aspects of the program. This "packaging" really helps to emphasize the interconnections amongst environmental initiatives. The multi-faceted program wins awards and the district saves money – a portion of which is reinvested in the program and the work on greening the schoolyards. 
  • The key drivers of the partnership with the Board are a shared vision and long-term site management. This means designing grounds to increase their educational use, ecologic diversity, and energy and cost efficiency, while nurturing child development with spaces that are designed specifically for them (as opposed to for adults).
  • The key activities in their schoolyard greening process are: an approvals process, which Evergreen organizes; a participatory design process, which includes walking and talking with children and custodial staff; installation planning with a focus on quality control; design guidelines to build clarity and efficiency in practice; and engaging professional development for staff at all levels, including teachers, facilities leads, and principals. 

The staff from Green Schoolyards America's partner organizations and school districts that joined us for this presentation were engaged and inspired by these stories of success. They asked pointed questions about its application to our context and were especially excited about the school ground greening guidelines that Evergreen often creates with school districts. These documents are highly tailored to each district's context and priorities. In addition to serving as step-by-step guides for design, construction, and maintenance, the collaborative process of developing the guidelines themselves is an invaluable tool for creating a common language and securing buy-in from all stakeholders in the community. 

We are grateful for this opportunity to share a model of successful, long-term schoolyard greening. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners across California, the United States, Canada, and beyond, inspiring and enabling schools and districts toward high quality green schoolyard programs with long-lasting impact and results!

Oregano Pesto! How One D.C. School is Using its Green Schoolyard

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Nancy Striniste, founder and principal designer at Earlyspace, is a landscape designer and former teacher. In the guest blog below, she gives us a peek into how one public charter school is using their green schoolyard.


Yesterday I got to visit Creative Minds International (CMI), a public charter school in Washington, D.C. The school serves about 500 students from preschool to middle school.  It's a uniquely beautiful and historic site in the city. The one-acre playground sits on the grounds of the Armed Forces retirement home. The school's neighbor is Lincoln's Cottage, which was the summer white house for Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd, and his young son, Tad. It's where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, and where Tad played with ponies and peacocks as a child.

The playground, which I designed, was built over the last two summers. On the schoolyard is an assortment of active natural play elements including a constructed hill with a slide on one side and a tunnel through the middle. There are logs for climbing and balancing, loose parts for building, a big sand and water area, and a whole bunch of different kinds of swings. A sensory trail leads children around the perimeter of the space. There are also several outdoor classrooms including an art studio, a theater, and an edible garden with an adjacent classroom area. 

I visited the space for the first time since last fall and got to meet the new garden teachers from Urban Adventure Squad, a D.C.-based nonprofit. Watch the videos below to hear how teachers and students are using their new green schoolyard for play, projects, and lessons!

From cooking to science class - Urban Adventure Squad describes different ways they are using the garden to engage students of all ages: https://vimeo.com/271388618?utm_source=email&utm_medium=vimeo-cliptranscode-201504&utm_campaign=29220

Listen and watch as a third-grade teacher shares the ways her students use the space, while they play in the background. Includes a great panorama of what the playground actually looks like: https://vimeo.com/271386549?utm_source=email&utm_medium=vimeo-cliptranscode-201504&utm_campaign=29220

 Sixth graders examining newly planted vining vegetables.

Sixth graders examining newly planted vining vegetables.

 A bead project in the art studio.

A bead project in the art studio.

Announcing Green Schoolyards America's New Expanded Activity Guide for Schools

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We are very excited to present the 2018 Living Schoolyard Activity Guide – United States Edition. This new publication is an expanded version of the school ground Activity Guide we have been producing over the last few years. It is designed to help schools use their grounds to the fullest during the month of May (for International School Grounds Month and Living Schoolyards Month) and year round!

The guides are appropriate for ages 3-18 and are full of cross-curricular activities that enhance and promote play, learning, health, outdoor connections, and community. They also contain great background information on the green schoolyards movement, the benefits of taking kids outside, and how we are working to shift the norm of how school grounds are designed and used. 

We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of our authors who contributed this year and in the past. The Activity Guides would not have been possible without their fantastic written contributions and the generosity of their organizations in sharing their work. We are grateful for the time and energy they put into their submissions and for their efforts to support this movement.

With our colleagues at the International School Grounds Alliance, we also produced a 2018 edition of the companion book, the International School Grounds Month Activity Guide. Together, the two Guides now include a total of 235 activities written by 187 organizations in 27 countries. (Did you know you had that many like-minded colleagues? It’s amazing!) All of the activities in both Guides are intended for use anywhere in the world, so we encourage you and your community to share the links for both of these free books!

 THE MAP ABOVE SHOWS THE FANTASTIC GEOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY OF THE AUTHOR-ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED IDEAS TO THIS PUBLICATION SERIES. ORGANIZATIONS THAT PARTICIPATED IN THE  LIVING SCHOOLYARD ACTIVITY GUIDE  ARE SHOWN WITH YELLOW MARKERS. ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE  INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL GROUNDS MONTH ACTIVITY GUIDE  ARE SHOWN WITH RED MARKERS. 

THE MAP ABOVE SHOWS THE FANTASTIC GEOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY OF THE AUTHOR-ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED IDEAS TO THIS PUBLICATION SERIES. ORGANIZATIONS THAT PARTICIPATED IN THE LIVING SCHOOLYARD ACTIVITY GUIDE ARE SHOWN WITH YELLOW MARKERS. ORGANIZATIONS THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL GROUNDS MONTH ACTIVITY GUIDE ARE SHOWN WITH RED MARKERS. 

Why 21st Century Children Need Nature

Why 21st Century Children Need Nature

Green Schoolyards America and The Presidio Trust invite you to join us for an inspiring afternoon presentation and discussion with our visiting keynote speaker, Prof. David Sobel, who will talk about the importance of nature play for 21st century children.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Networking Reception, 4:00 - 4:30 pm  |  Presentation, 4:30 - 6:00 pm
The Presidio  |  Observation Post  |  211 Lincoln Blvd  |  San Francisco, CA 

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Join us in Sacramento on May 18th!

The State Water Resources Control Board is hosting the STORMS Seminar Series to share the latest reports, studies, and policies in the world of stormwater to an audience of both governmental and public interests, as a way to support their mission of promoting stormwater as a valuable resource.

The next STORMS Seminar Series event, Living Schoolyards for Stormwater Management, will be hosted at the CalEPA Building (1001 I Street) on Wednesday, May 18th, 10 am to noon. 

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Green Schoolyards America featured in the Mountain View Voice!

Green Schoolyards America featured in the Mountain View Voice!

Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, was honored to speak with the Mountain View Whisman School District’s school board at their meeting this month. Her presentation described the benefits of greening school grounds for both children and the local environment, and generated a lively dialogue. The Mountain View Voice published an article reporting on the event:

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A Win for Sustainable Schools as part of California Climate Investment Plan

A Win for Sustainable Schools as part of California Climate Investment Plan

California’s climate action law (AB32) includes an innovative market-based mechanism to lower greenhouse gas emissions called “cap and trade.” The California Air Resources Board, in collaboration with a number of state agencies, is organizing investment strategies for the next three years. In the first draft investment plan, schools were not included as investment priorities and were not eligible for most of the funding programs.

Today, December 17th, Katrina Ortiz from Green Schoolyards America and Deborah Moore from Green Schools Initiative spoke at the California Air Resources Board’s public hearing about their 2016-19 second draft investment plan. 

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Upcoming Midwest Activity Guide

Upcoming Midwest Activity Guide

We’re happy to report that we now have 26 Midwest organizations on board to contribute activities to the 2016 Living Schoolyard Activity Guide - Midwest Edition!

We’re glad that so many amazing organizations from across Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa have joined us so far. We’re looking forward to including more voices in the coming weeks!

As you may have heard, we’re in the midst of raising funds to make sure we are able to complete this guide—and we need your help! 

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Research Pitch Champion!

From left to right: Bill Orr (Executive Director, CHPS), Sharon Danks (CEO, Green Schoolyards America), Bevin Ashenmiller (Associate Professor, Occidental College), Nate Allen (Center for Green Schools, U.S. Green Building Council) 

Great news! We were awarded a grant for our new research project to study the costs and benefits of city-wide green schoolyard programs! 

Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, Sharon Danks, and our partner, Prof. Bevin Ashenmiller (Occidental College) participated in a competitive research pitch in front of a live audience at the Research Summit on Childhood Health and School Buildings in Washington, DC last week—and WE WON! The event was hosted by the US Green Building Council, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools and the American Institute of Architects as part of their Green Build conference. We are honored to be selected and look forward to beginning our work soon. 

California’s Brand New Environmental Literacy Initiative!

California’s Brand New Environmental Literacy Initiative!

Green Schoolyards America is proud to announce California’s Environmental Literacy Plan! Yesterday, our CEO Sharon Danks attended the launch event in San Francisco. Legislators and educators from across the state came out to celebrate.

Sharon was on the Environmental Literacy Task Force that wrote the report, along with 46 other experts in the green school grounds and environmental education fields. This document emphasizes the importance of teaching kids about the world they live in and getting hands on experience in outdoor settings. Not only does getting outside support physical and mental health, it teaches us about the natural systems that support our everyday lives. 

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Inspiring School Grounds Conference coming up in September!

Join us in Bali (September 28th - 30th, 2015) for the 4th International School Grounds Conference - the first of its kind to be held in AustralAsia. 

Visionary leaders of the school ground movement from Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Europe and North America will share their experiences, case studies and best practices. Participate in this exciting conference to learn more about cutting edge school grounds, meet like-minded colleagues and organizations from around the world, share ideas, tour fantastic local school grounds and be inspired to bring new ideas to your own community.

Learn more here.

Schoolyard Habitat Workshops for Teachers in San Diego

Schoolyard Habitat Workshops for Teachers in San Diego

Thanks to a grant from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE),SD Children and Nature, SD Master Gardeners and Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting partnered to host two training workshops on Creating Schoolyard Habitats for Play and Learning. Over 50 teachers attended the workshops to learn about designing and utilizing schoolyard wildlife habitats. Three more workshops will be offered in the Fall. 

The workshops took place at San Diego Botanical Garden, Encinitas, CA and the Cuyamaca Water Conservation Garden.

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Spring Valley Elementary Builds Raised Garden Beds!

Green Schoolyards America is proud to feature Living Schoolyard Month celebrations that were held in May across the state of California. If you celebrated and would like to be featured here, send photos and a brief description to info (at) greenschoolyards (dot) org.  —GSA

Spring Valley community members and students ended the year by adding raised vegetable beds to their living schoolyard.

See more information on Spring Valley’s blog.


Contributed by Rachel Pringle, Senior Director of Programs, Education Outside
Photos by Taryn Colonnese, Education Outside Corps Member

San Francisco, CA