- By working with the city government, Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan is strategically enhancing its school fields and playgrounds in areas that lack sufficient green spaces, District Administration reports. The new designs include outdoor learning classrooms and are open to the public when school is not in session.
- The district used grant funds to hire an environmental education coordinator who will work with local agencies to develop a standards-aligned outdoor curriculum.
- Other districts also are designing similar multipurpose facilities. A spokesperson from Austin ISD in Texas said the parks could eventually be integrated across all subject areas, and they have prompted the district to consider professional development for teaching outdoors.
Projects turning school facilities into after-hour community spaces are spreading across the country in an effort to bring green spaces into communities that lack them. Earlier this year, Atlanta Public Schools picked up on the national trend, joining more than 30 other big cities that entered similar joint-use agreements.
The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit encouraging this trend, says that opening all schoolyards up to the public would give nearly 20 million people who aren't within walking distance of a park access to green spaces.
For school districts looking to do this, entering shared-use agreements with municipalities relieve potential liability and shift the costs and maintenance of the parks away from the schools. Instead of working in isolation to design the parks, the nonprofit organization proposes that schools adopt a "participatory design process" that invites the community (including students, teachers, parents and local groups) to contribute ideas.
"When neighborhoods unite to design their schoolyards," the organization says on its website, "they create places that reflect what’s important to the whole community, where everyone feels welcome."
Attractive school-community playgrounds could also help transform a school brand into one that encourages community connections and builds positive school culture, experts say, especially if those spaces reflect the cultural heritage or other qualities of the community.