From Concrete to Green Space: How Students Redesign Green Schoolyards
If you look at the schools in your areas, do you notice a trend among them? Do they have a green schoolyard? Many are just concrete slabs, sometimes equipped with a basketball hoop or soccer net. But many do not have any greenery. Access to parks in the United States has been identified as unequal to many communities.
Fortunately, change in many of these areas is coming and is brought on by the people who use the schoolyard five times a week: the children. Less than a year ago, a schoolyard in Add B. Anderson School in West Philadelphia was covered entirely in concrete, with maybe a few weeds growing through the cracks. The students didn’t even have a proper basketball net; they used a garbage can to play with.
The not-for-profit organization that creates parks and protects public land in areas where it is needed the most Trust for Public Land. Teamed up with the School District of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Philadephia 76ers to design and create green schoolyards.
The best part is that the students were directly involved in decision-making. They picked out the playground equipment; they surveyed their teachers, families and neighbours about what they wanted from a new outdoor space. In all, the redesign came from the people using the schoolyard daily.
From a giant concrete space, the new green schoolyard has been transformed into a running track, a basketball court, picnic tables, and new play equipment. Trees have been planted along with two rain gardens filled with flowers. The gardens are helping to slow and filter stormwater preventing it from overwhelming and polluting nearby Cobbs Creek and the Schuylkill River.
Providing students with direct access to green space has been shown to benefit them positively. Students will participate in more intense physical activity, run around and play more in a green schoolyard. And this will affect their academic performance.
There is a growing body of research that suggests that green schoolyards can have a positive impact on student academic performance and attendance rates. For example, a study of 450 public schools in Washington state found that schools with more tree canopy cover and total green cover had higher sixth-grade reading and math scores, even after controlling for factors such as socioeconomic status and school resources. Additionally, a study of 12 low-income New York elementary schools found that green schoolyards were associated with improved academic performance, dietary outcomes, and attendance rates.
There are a number of possible explanations for why green schoolyards may be beneficial for student learning. For example, exposure to nature has been shown to improve cognitive function, reduce stress, and promote relaxation. This can lead to better attention, focus, and memory, which can all contribute to improved academic performance. Additionally, green schoolyards can provide students with opportunities for physical activity, which is also linked to improved academic outcomes.
Of course, not all studies have found a positive association between green schoolyards and academic performance. However, the weight of evidence suggests that there is a potential benefit to having green schoolyards. As more research is conducted, we will likely learn more about the specific ways in which green schoolyards can benefit student learning.
Here are some of the ways that green schoolyards can benefit student academic performance:
- Improved cognitive function: Exposure to nature has been shown to improve cognitive function, including attention, focus, and memory. This can lead to better academic performance.
- Reduced stress: Green schoolyards can provide students with a place to relax and escape from the stresses of school and everyday life. This can help to reduce stress levels, which can improve academic performance.
- Promoted physical activity: Green schoolyards can provide students with opportunities for physical activity, which is also linked to improved academic outcomes.
- Increased social interaction: Green schoolyards can provide students with a place to socialize and interact with each other. This can help to improve social skills, which can also benefit academic performance.
Access to green space can also benefit the entire community, as it can lower stress levels, provide a greater sense of community, improve physical activity and minimize health problems. And after school hours, these schoolyards become accessible places for everyone to enjoy.
Trust for Public Land has transformed nearly 300 schoolyards into green spaces. And it has been extremely successful in areas that are very built up, like New York or Philadelphia, that do not have space to build brand-new parks.
They calculated that if every schoolyard in the United States were revamped and open after hours to the community, it would put 80 million people within a 10-minute walk of a park. This would have an incredible impact on Americans’ physical and mental health.
From concrete to green space, the redesign of the Add B. Anderson School schoolyard in West Philadelphia is just one example of the potential to provide children and communities with more green space, which would benefit future generations and our environment as a whole.