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