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 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.