Uneven Play: WHYY Explores the Need for More Playgrounds at Schools in Philadelphia

Two thirds of the playgrounds in Philadelphia don’t have a playground, and many look like this: acres of asphalt, very little shade, and cars parked where children could be playing.

Two thirds of the playgrounds in Philadelphia don’t have a playground, and many look like this: acres of asphalt, very little shade, and cars parked where children could be playing.

Philadelphia, PA – Green Schoolyards America’s CEO, Sharon Danks, traveled to Philadelphia on February 15th to join radio station WHYY and the local community in a conversation about the need for more playgrounds at Philly’s schools. More than 100 community members gathered for a lively event that included dinner, presentations, and a discussion.

Research conducted by WHYY’s journalist Nina Feldman uncovered the fact that two-thirds of Philadelphia’s public elementary schools don’t have playgrounds, and that the presence of playgrounds is highly correlated with income levels of each neighborhood. The lower income areas of the city do not have playgrounds, leaving children to play as they can on unimproved, unshaded asphalt that often doubles as parking space during the day—as shown in the photograph above.

WHYY’s Nina Feldman (left) interviewed local resident Antoinnette Reynolds about the need for more children’s play space in her neighborhood.

WHYY’s Nina Feldman (left) interviewed local resident Antoinnette Reynolds about the need for more children’s play space in her neighborhood.

During the event on February 15th, Feldman interviewed a grandparent (above) and her children about what the lack of playground space means for her family. Danks gave a presentation about the benefits that green schoolyards afford in other cities,, and advocated for greening school grounds in Philadelphia to provide improved learning and play spaces that will connect children with nature on a daily basis and offer a wide range of health benefits. Philadelphia School District Director of Capital Programs, Danielle Floyd, also spoke about the school district’s budget realities and their hopes for being able to improve playgrounds across the District.

Feldman then led a panel discussion with Danks, Floyd, and Plan Philly’s Managing Editor, Ariella Cohen, to discuss the future of building more playgrounds in Philadelphia.

We hope that this conversation and the high level of interest expressed by the local community will spark a shift in the way that the Philadelphia School District uses its grounds in the future.

For more information about this event and WHYY’s recent reporting about playgrounds in Philadelphia and San Francisco, please follow the links below.

February 9, 2019
WHYY Community Conversation: The push for playgrounds brings people together

February 6, 2019
Uneven Play: Why your neighborhood school probably doesn’t have a playground

February 6, 2019
San Francisco shares its schoolyards, opening communities to green spaces and one another’s lives

The community gathered in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia for a conversation about the future of playgrounds across the city.

The community gathered in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia for a conversation about the future of playgrounds across the city.


Press Release: OUSD School Board Passes Policies on Living Schoolyards and Environmental Education

Students working in the green environment at Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, CA. This School is not one of the pilot projects for the Living schoolyard initiative, but already has a wonderful garden that benefits students. Photo by Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Students working in the green environment at Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, CA. This School is not one of the pilot projects for the Living schoolyard initiative, but already has a wonderful garden that benefits students. Photo by Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Oakland, CA – On Wednesday, February 13th, the Oakland Unified School District’s Board of Education passed two complementary policies that will take the District down a path toward ensuring OUSD students are educated in greener environments and become environmentally literate and prepared to address the challenges of the future related to climate change.

“I want to thank the many community members who worked so hard on this effort,” said Board of Education Vice President, Jody London. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of important community partners such as The Trust For Public Land, Green Schoolyards America and the Sierra Club. The Living Schoolyards Initiative brings together teachers, staff, parents, students and the community in designing the environment they’d like to see.”

The Development of Living Schoolyards policy outlines OUSD’s vision to transform asphalt covered school grounds into living schoolyards that promote children’s health and well-being, while creating green and ecologically rich community parks that connect children and their neighborhoods to the natural world outside their classroom door, every day. The policy also provides a roadmap for implementing this plan, to create a successful transition to implement living schoolyards in all schools across the District.

A planning session for the greening project on the paved schoolyard at Markham Elementary School. Photo © Green Schoolyards America

A planning session for the greening project on the paved schoolyard at Markham Elementary School. Photo © Green Schoolyards America

“We are excited for the future of our schools and what this will mean for the children who play on these green yards,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “Imagine being students coming out of class at lunchtime onto a plain asphalt play yard. Young people can certainly have fun and get exercise there. But imagine the same students entering a yard that has been transformed into a park-like atmosphere with grass and trees. We expect it to change the way they view their world, and give them a deeper appreciation for the natural environment around them.”

The Environmental and Climate Change Literacy policy acknowledges that climate change is the “greatest challenge facing future generations,” and commits the District to integrating climate literacy into the curriculum by providing resources and training to teachers. The Policy encourages OUSD to align its curriculum with state standards and provide action-oriented projects that help create schools that can be sustainability hubs for our communities.

Photo by Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Photo by Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

“Green Schoolyards America works to ensure that all children have access to nature every day on park-like school grounds designed for education, health, and environmental resilience,” said Sharon Danks, CEO of Green Schoolyards America. “We commend Oakland Unified School District on their ground-breaking efforts to create a greener future for all children in the City, and we are committed to collaborating with the District to help make their vision a reality.”

Simultaneous to working on the policy, The Trust for Public Land is leading the implementation of living schoolyard pilot projects on five campuses: Melrose Leadership Academy, Markham Elementary School, the co-located International Community School and Think College Now, Street Academy, and Ralph J. Bunche High School. The Rose Foundation is creating a living schoolyard at the Havenscourt Campus.

“The Trust for Public Land works to ensure that everyone lives within a 10 minute walk of a park, and Oakland schoolyards have the potential to move the needle on addressing this vision. Our organization is committed to working with the District and the Oakland community to design and build living schoolyards, as well as assisting the District to develop policies and strategies and secure funding to ensure that projects are implemented and maintained,” said Alejandra Chiesa, Bay Area Program Director for The Trust for Public Land.

OUSD’s Deputy Chief of Facilities, Tim White is pleased to see the genesis of this effort, “The collaboration with people from the community doing these projects and pushing forward the work are the best ways to offer this kind of benefit, because the community is so deeply invested in it. We look forward to seeing these school yards come to life.”

These schoolyard transformations have been successful in attracting funding from State and philanthropic grants. The Trust for Public Land has recently secured close to $2.3 million dollars in state grants and additional funding in private philanthropy from the Hellman Foundation and Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

Students working in the garden at Hoover Elementary School. Photo by Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Students working in the garden at Hoover Elementary School. Photo by Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

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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’s mission is to transform asphalt-covered school grounds into park-like green spaces that improve children’s well-being, learning, and play while contributing to the ecological health and resilience of our cities. We seek to change the norm for school ground design, use, and management so that all children will have access to the natural world in the places they already visit on a daily basis. For more information, please visit www.greenschoolyards.org.

About 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.

Contact: John Sasaki, Communications Director, Oakland Unified School District. 510-214-2080. john.sasaki@ousd.org