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!