Living Schoolyards Featured at the Green Schools Summit

 Sharon Danks (Green Schoolyards America) gave a keynote presentation at the Green California Schools and Community Colleges Summit this year. Photo by David McNew, courtesy of Green Technology.

Sharon Danks (Green Schoolyards America) gave a keynote presentation at the Green California Schools and Community Colleges Summit this year. Photo by David McNew, courtesy of Green Technology.

For more than a decade, the Green California Schools and Community Colleges Summit has been an annual gathering place for the green building community to share ideas and best practices, launch new programs and products, and work to shape the future of the green building field in California.

This year, Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, Sharon Danks, was honored to give the keynote address on the opening day of the conference. This was particularly exciting because the green building industry has long focused on constructing school buildings, and has only recently begun to seriously consider how school grounds can impact the local environment and influence children’s health and experiences at school.

Danks’s presentation shared our organization’s vision for “living schoolyards” across the state of California that are designed to benefit children, their communities, and the urban environment at the same time. Green Schoolyards America envisions a future in which:

  • All children have daily access to nature right outside their classroom door, enabling dynamic hands-on learning across the curriculum, child-directed play, robust health, and a positive social environment.

  • School grounds are vibrant, welcoming centers for their communities, and the public lands managed by schools also function as public parks after hours.

  • School grounds act as green infrastructure for their cities, helping to foster healthy urban watersheds, rich wildlife habitats, improved climate, and better air quality.

Sharon also presented the contrasting, stark reality that many school grounds in California face: A majority of our schools are almost completely paved and lack trees and other vegetation. More than 58% of California’s public schools have less than 5% tree canopy coverage to protect children from the sun, and cool our urban environment.

The need for change is clear—as shown in the image below—and the scale of making a transition from “asphalt to ecosystems” on our school grounds is enormous. California has more than 10,000 schools on 130,000 acres of land. We need widespread collaboration to move the needle on this problem.

 Sharon Danks included the slide above in her presentation at the Green Schools Summit. ©Green Schoolyards America, 2018.

Sharon Danks included the slide above in her presentation at the Green Schools Summit. ©Green Schoolyards America, 2018.

Sharon encouraged the audience to do what they can, in their own roles, to help fix this problem and shift the norm for schools across our state so that all children will have access to nature on their own school grounds, every day. She also presented specific ideas to help the architects, public agency staff, and school district leaders in the audience get started, and encouraged interdisciplinary collaboration to move the field forward.

For more information about Green Schoolyards America’s approach and philosophy, click here for an interview with Sharon Danks that the Summit host conducted in preparation for this event.

Exploring Connections Between School Grounds and Health

 Workshop organizer, Claire Latané, opened the program.

Workshop organizer, Claire Latané, opened the program.

On Thursday, October 11, 2018, Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, Sharon Danks, was honored to participate in an innovative workshop called Designing Schools for Mental Health. The workshop was led by our colleague Claire Latané, and was hosted by the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Landscape Architecture.

The goal of the event was to convene members of the mental health, education, design, and environmental communities in the Los Angeles region to share their work and spark a discussion about how all of these fields can collaborate to create school environments that better support students’ mental and physical health and well-being.

The event organizers created this workshop because “Los Angeles area students experience high levels of instability and stress related to urban environmental conditions, family trauma, and neighborhood disinvestment. As an indication of the degree, fifty percent of LAUSD students suffer moderate to severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Design principles to reduce stress and to support students suffering attention deficit, sensory integration, and autism spectrum disorders are remarkably similar -- [and call for schools to] provide a well-organized, comfortable, calm environment, plenty of access to nature, and small quiet places to escape chaos.”

Keynote speaker, Dr. William Sullivan from the University of Illinois, spoke about his research that connects landscape design to children’s well-being. He and his colleagues have found that views of trees and green landscapes from the classroom window reduce students’ stress levels and restores their ability to pay attention, helping students to measurably improve their academic performance.

Sharon Danks was also a keynote speaker, and gave a presentation that highlighted many different ways that green schoolyards can be used to improve or promote children’s health. This included examples from around the world about designing children’s environments: to encourage students to run and explore; to learn new skills; to develop balance and strength; and eat a balanced and healthy diet. She also presented school ground examples that help support students’ social emotional development, empathy, and mental health; and touched on environmental health topics that impact students’ health and well-being. (e.g. playground surface temperatures, protection from the sun, and organic grounds management)

 Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America, shares our organization’s vision and perspective.

Sharon Danks, Green Schoolyards America, shares our organization’s vision and perspective.

Dr. Marcella Raney (Occidental College) discussed her recent research that illustrates connections between schoolyard design, children’s behavior patterns, and their physical activity levels. Eileen Alduenda (Council for Watershed Health) spoke about her organization’s research into the land use patterns and tree canopy coverage of school grounds in the Los Angeles Unified School District—and their shocking findings that ~20% of LAUSD’s school grounds are completely paved and don’t have a single tree. Pia Escudero and Albert Grazioli, speakers from LAUSD, also detailed the school district’s work to provide an expanded network of wellness centers and mental health services to the District’s students. Maryjane Puffer (LA Trust for Children’s Health) spoke about her organization’s work to improve children’s health.

The event concluded with lively group discussion sessions designed to encourage ongoing collaboration to improve children’s mental and physical health at schools and districts in the region.

 Eileen Alduenda, Council for Watershed Health, explains that a shocking 82% of LAUSD’s school grounds are paved.

Eileen Alduenda, Council for Watershed Health, explains that a shocking 82% of LAUSD’s school grounds are paved.



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

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

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.

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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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