Announcing a Hands-on Conference with Inspiring School Ground Innovator, Susan Humphries: Sept. 27-28, 2019

An outdoor lesson in progress at The Coombes School, within a child-planted forest.  Photo: © Sharon Danks

An outdoor lesson in progress at The Coombes School, within a child-planted forest.
Photo: © Sharon Danks

Green Schoolyards America is honored to announce that we will have a very special visitor this fall, in town from England! Our colleague, Susan Humphries, MBE, MA, will join us in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of September to share her expertise and deep understanding of how to use school grounds to foster children’s learning, play, and happiness.

Ms. Humphries will collaborate with Green Schoolyards America to lead a two-day, professional development conference that shares what she has learned over her 40+ year career as one of the green schoolyard field’s international founders. She brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in teaching methods that are based on outdoor experiences and an understanding of the natural world.

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Save the dates!

September 27 28, 2019

DAY 1: Hands-on Teaching and
Learning in a Green Schoolyard

DAY 2: Making the Most of
Asphalt-Covered School Grounds

Timing: 9:00 am - 3:30 pm, both days
Location:
Hosted by Golestan School, El Cerrito, CA

Our conference program is designed for preschool and elementary school teachers, and will also be well suited to after school and childcare staff, educators in non-formal settings, garden teachers, designers of children’s environments, and members of the public interested in children’s wellbeing, learning, and play.

The program will include a keynote presentation each day with vibrant examples drawn from Ms. Humphries’s inspiring work at The Coombes School in Berkshire, England, where she was the Founding Headteacher (principal) and led the school for almost four decades. The program will also include hands-on workshops designed to bring her teaching philosophy and methodology to life, and provide resources and ideas that participants will be able to use at their own schools after the conference.

A music lesson in progress on the asphalt playground at The Coombes School.  Photo: © Sharon Danks

A music lesson in progress on the asphalt playground at The Coombes School.
Photo: © Sharon Danks

More information about the speaker:

Susan Humphries, MBE, MA, is the Founding Headteacher of The Coombes School in Berkshire, England. She led the school from 1971 to 2002, and remained involved with their program and landscape development for an additional decade after her retirement. In 2011, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Faculty of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden to acknowledge the foundations she has laid in building individual and group responsibility for healthy ecosystems and use of natural resources. In 2012, Humphries collaborated with her colleague Susan Rowe to write a book called The Coombes Approach: Learning through an Experimental and Outdoor Curriculum, to share teaching methods used at the school. In 2018, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International School Grounds Alliance to recognize the formative impact her ideas have had on the green schoolyard movement across the globe.

Enrollment:

This conference is open to the public. Click here for more detailed information about the event and how to enroll. We hope you will join us for this special event!

Conference organizers:

This conference is a project of Green Schoolyards America, in collaboration with Susan Humphries. It will be hosted by our partners at Golestan Education, on their beautiful school grounds in El Cerrito, CA.

Children, Nature, and School Grounds in Oakland, California

Conference participants visited the beautiful garden at Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, CA.

Conference participants visited the beautiful garden at Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, CA.

We had the pleasure of working with our colleagues to shine a spotlight on school grounds in Oakland during the Children & Nature Network’s 2019 International Children & Nature conference in May.

We participated in two conference sessions that explored Green Schoolyards America’s ongoing collaboration with the Oakland Unified School District and The Trust for Public Land to develop and help implement a vision for greening school grounds across Oakland.

On May 15, 2019, we helped the Children & Nature Network to lead a special pre-conference session focused on using green schoolyards as a mechanism to bring nature into children’s lives on a daily basis. Participants in this session came into town from across the United States and around the world, and are engaged in schoolyard greening efforts in their own local regions. We had a lively and productive group discussion and exchange of ideas in the morning.

Sharon Danks (Green Schoolyards America) talks about our collaborative work in Oakland.

Sharon Danks (Green Schoolyards America) talks about our collaborative work in Oakland.

Just before lunch, Green Schoolyards America, Trust for Public Land, and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) gave a collaborative slide presentation about our work together, and our vision to green school grounds across the City.

After lunch, the whole group boarded buses and we had the opportunity to bring everyone to see three Oakland schools where greening is planned or underway.

Participants in the schoolyard tour visit Markham Elementary in Oakland, CA to learn about changes planned for the grounds.

Participants in the schoolyard tour visit Markham Elementary in Oakland, CA to learn about changes planned for the grounds.

On our visit to Markham Elementary, The Trust for Public Land showed the visiting group a schoolyard master plan that will help transform a very paved school site (above) into a more park-like green space with trees, gardens, and a variety of outdoor learning and recreational spaces. This school is one of the five pilot projects that our partnership is producing. The Trust for Public Land is leading the design process.

On our visit to Hoover Elementary, garden teacher Wanda Stewart shared the work she has been doing with her students, school volunteers, and the wider community to develop a spectacular garden and outdoor learning space on the school grounds. The program already in action at this school is a model for others in our region, and its benefits to students are already very clear. Several students joined the tour and told the visitors about what they appreciated about spending time in green space at their school. The students were also expert tour guides who led the adults through the garden and helped them to see it through their eyes.

Students at Hoover Elementary joined the discussion about their school garden, and helped the visiting adults learn about the program.

Students at Hoover Elementary joined the discussion about their school garden, and helped the visiting adults learn about the program.

On May 16, the three partner organizations also spoke at a separate conference session about greening school grounds in Oakland. Sharon Danks (Green Schoolyards America), Alejandra Chiesa (Trust for Public Land), and OUSD School Board Vice President Jody London co-presented (shown below), and engaged the audience in a conversation about the tremendous need for this work, the challenges involved in trying to dramatically change school grounds, and the process and strategies we are using to bring green schoolyards to scale in Oakland.

The Trust for Public Land’s Alejandra Chiesa speaks to conference attendees.

The Trust for Public Land’s Alejandra Chiesa speaks to conference attendees.

OUSD School Board Vice President Jody London speaks at the conference.

OUSD School Board Vice President Jody London speaks at the conference.

Later in the day on May 16, Sharon Danks (Green Schoolyards America) also collaborated with colleagues John Fisher (Life Lab) and Nathan Larson (Wisconsin School Garden Network) to lead a separate session at the conference focused on the topic of developing and sustaining networks to further the school garden and green schoolyard movements. Our workshop shared examples from our own work, and promoted a lively dialogue about network-building among session participants.

Green Schoolyards America greatly enjoys sharing our work at conferences and meeting our colleagues. It is wonderful to hear about inspiring efforts happening all around us, near and far. We will close this post with a snapshot (below) of our green schoolyard colleagues who were in town from across the United States as well as England and Chile!

A lively gathering of green schoolyard colleagues from near and far—out for ice cream to continue our conversations after the conference!

A lively gathering of green schoolyard colleagues from near and far—out for ice cream to continue our conversations after the conference!



Celebrate Your School Grounds!

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A seven-year-old girl stands in her school’s courtyard garden with a paper cup in hand. The tall walls of the surrounding classrooms block noise from nearby urban streets and make the courtyard a quiet space for the goats, chickens, and children within. The little girl reaches up into the lush row of fava beans in front of her and carefully removes plump snails, placing them into her collecting cup. When she has gathered several snails, she runs to find one of the chickens contentedly roaming through the straw covered soil.  A little boy scoops up a chicken and pets it while the girl feeds the snails she has just captured to the happy bird.

After observing this scene in the spring of 1998 at LeConte Elementary in Berkeley, California, I asked the children about their activities. The girl explained simply and clearly that the snails were harming their fava beans, so they had to be removed. The chickens loved eating the snails so they were given to the chickens. She added that her school composted chicken droppings to feed the soil and help the fava beans grow…and she loved fava beans so this type of garden work was important. From her explanation, it was obvious the young girl, growing up in an urban area, clearly understood the complex ecological cycles connecting their tasty crop to the snails, chickens, and soil. This simple but excellent elementary school garden had succeeded in teaching complex, integrated ecological concepts in a memorable way that young students understood.*

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This first exposure to a green schoolyard during graduate school—21 years ago—resonated with me on a personal level and sparked an ongoing professional interest that I have been exploring ever since.  One question I’ve asked myself over the years is, “How can we engage more children in the natural world every day, and weave it into the spaces and places they already visit in their neighborhoods?” To me, school grounds are big part of the answer since they are the places that many children visit at least five days a week for 15 or more of the most formative years of their lives, as they move from preschool through high school, developing their world view and creating their place within it.

How can we make school grounds into rich, outdoor environments for all children?  We need large scale changes to improve our school ground infrastructure, programming, and stewardship—and they are important, and require coordinated efforts to achieve. At the same time, there are also many things we can do right now, on any school ground, to improve and enrich children’s experiences every day. We have the power to start that transformation on our own patches of land at school, with our fellow community members.

Transforming school grounds is both physical—bringing nature back to our cities—and mental—changing the way we think about and use the new spaces we create and the environments we already have.

International School Grounds Month

During the month of May each year, Green Schoolyards America partners with the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) and other organizations to celebrate a “global schoolyard block party” of sorts, with students of all ages (pre-K - 12) and their communities. This annual May event is called International School Grounds Month and we’d like to invite you to join us for this global celebration of school grounds. It’s a perfect opportunity to use the outdoor environment you already have at your local school to its fullest, and can also be a chance to implement small changes to your grounds with the help of students and the community.

California adopted this school ground celebration in 2014, and calls their annual May event Living Schoolyard Month. In addition, Outdoor Classroom Day, started in 2017, is another global school ground event that is celebrated on two designated special days in May and November each year.

Free Resources for Bringing Children Outside at School

You can celebrate all of these events in May by bringing children outside on your local school grounds to experience nature or to simply enjoy the fresh air while doing any type of activity that sparks your imagination and is a good fit for your school community.

We invite you to download our free set of school ground Activity Guides, published in collaboration with the International School Grounds Alliance. Together, the two books in the Activity Guide set include a total of 235 hands-on, school ground activities, written by 187 organizations across the United States and around the world! 

This rich collection of hands-on outdoor ideas is intended for children and youth, ages 3 to 18 years old. The activities support learning across the curriculum, promote healthy lifestyles, and encourage play and exploration during children’s free time and before, during, and after school. Many of these activities help kids understand the places they live, build life-long skills, and collaborate to improve their schoolyard's ecosystems. All activities are intended to be used anywhere in the world, year-round! Download your free copy of both books, today!

This map shows the fantastic geographic diversity of the author-organizations who contributed their ideas to the  Activity Guide  set described above. This movement is worldwide, and we hope you will join us!

This map shows the fantastic geographic diversity of the author-organizations who contributed their ideas to the Activity Guide set described above. This movement is worldwide, and we hope you will join us!

Share Your Work and Learn from Others

We hope you will encourage your local schools to participate in International School Grounds Month and other events in May!  After your celebration, please send us a brief summary of your activities so that we can share them on our blog in the months following the event. Please click here for directions about how to register and share your school’s activities.  Sharing your work will help us paint a global picture of these events.   

We hope these celebrations in May inspire you to engage your local schools in using their grounds year-round. We look forward to hearing about your adventures! Thank you for joining us outside!

— Sharon Danks, Founder and CEO, Green Schoolyards America


* Modified text excerpt, used above with author’s permission: Sharon Gamson Danks, Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation, New Village Press, November 2010, p. ix.

2019 Bay Area Principals' Institute Launched!

On Friday, March 8th, 2019, a group of school principals, school district leaders, and public agency staff met in San Francisco at the headquarters of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for the first seminar of the 2019 Bay Area Principals’ Institute.

First offered in 2016, the Green Schoolyards America Principals’ Institute supports school administrators in their pivotal role as leaders of their school community and champions of a healthy and dynamic school environment. Over the course of this year-long program, our staff will provide resources, advice, and professional development to support participating principals and school district leaders in adopting and sustaining comprehensive, high quality, green schoolyard programs at their schools and in their districts.

Through the Institute’s seminars and schoolyard learning walks, participants will also develop connections and relationships with other professionals in their own districts and beyond, who can help support their green schoolyard work. The 2019 Bay Area cohort includes three local school districts, as well as a number of independent schools in the area. Our program also often includes participants from partner agencies and nonprofit organizations. We have already seen results from the connections made on the first day of this year’s program and we look forward to growing this network and “community of practice” as the Institute progresses.

Over the course of the year-long Institute, we will cover a wide range of green schoolyard topics focused on the question of how to make the most of school ground land for PreK-12 students’ learning, play and health, community engagement, and ecological resilience.

Sarah Bloom, a watershed planner with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, gave a presentation about stormwater schoolyards during the first Seminar of the 2019 Bay Area Principals’ Institute.

Sarah Bloom, a watershed planner with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, gave a presentation about stormwater schoolyards during the first Seminar of the 2019 Bay Area Principals’ Institute.

Our first seminar on March 8th provided an overview of the green schoolyard field and introduced participants to the multitude of benefits that can be achieved by greening school grounds. Our CEO, Sharon Danks, shared inspiring case-studies from around the world and current trends within the global movement. Our Program Director, Dr. Raymond Isola, provided insights and examples of how schoolyard greening works in practice, from his own experience as an elementary school principal in San Francisco. SFPUC Watershed Planner, Sarah Bloom, gave a lively presentation about how greening school grounds and removing asphalt helps the SFPUC to manage San Francisco’s urban watersheds. During the last part of the day, our Program Manager, Erica Fine, led participants through a number of exercises to help them assess their own school grounds and existing policies and programs, to better understand the opportunities for green schoolyard improvement. This work will serve as the foundation of their individual green schoolyard projects, which help participants to apply what they learn to their own contexts.

The next seminar for our Bay Area Principals’ Institute cohort is May 3rd, and will focus on how to use school grounds to improve health and well-being. In the meantime, we look forward to touring local school grounds with our participants to see examples of what green schoolyards look like on the ground.

Enrollment is now open for our 2019-2020 Principals’ Institute cohort in the Los Angeles region. Click here for more information about how to sign up!

We are grateful to our sponsors and partners for supporting the 2019 Bay Area Principals’ Institute!

Major sponsors:

Program sponsor: Indra Designs

If you or your organization are interested in supporting our Bay Area or Los Angeles Principals’ Institutes, please contact info@greenschoolyards.org.






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