Our Commitment to Space to Grow Schools

April 27, 2015

We have a two-year support plan for all Space to Grow schools.

Last fall, we unveiled four new schoolyards as part of our Space to Grow program. These schoolyard transformations turned broken asphalt and outdated playground equipment into school and community hubs with rain gardens, athletic fields and playgrounds that have features for all age groups. But our engagement with the schools doesn’t stop once the schoolyards are opened.

Space to Grow is an innovative public-private partnership co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands that transforms Chicago schoolyards into school and community centers that support active and healthy lifestyles, outdoor learning, physical education and engagement with the environment.

Through this unique program and partnership, HSC and Openlands work with the schools and communities to ensure that the schoolyards are maintained, and that the students, staff and community members have the knowledge and skills to take full advantage of these new assets. The schoolyards have all sorts of features that weren’t there before, and we want to make sure the entire school community knows what these features are there and enjoys using them.

At each of the four Space to Grow schools that opened last fall, we have completed garden planning workshops and are doing a round of community workshops aimed at neighborhood flood prevention. At the garden planning workshops, the school garden team at each school came together with The Kitchen Community — a Space to Grow partner — to talk about goals for their vegetable gardens and to pick what the team will grow over the next couple of seasons. The community workshops are bringing together neighbors to learn about how the Space to Grow schoolyards are helping prevent local flooding and simple things they can do at home — like plant native gardens or install rain barrels — to help keep water out of their basements.

Our school support plans extend beyond community workshops. We provide resources for teachers and other school staff to help schools integrate the new schoolyards into the school experience in fun and creative ways, such as by hosting healthy fundraisers — think: walkathons instead of candy bar sales.

Engaging the community in upkeep efforts is also essential to the Space to Grow model. That starts while the schoolyards are in the early design stages. Each school was engaged in a months-long planning process during which teachers, school staff, parents, students and community members provided a vision for their schoolyard. The schoolyards were then designed and constructed to meet the unique needs and visions of each community.

That engagement means community members feel ownership of the space, like at Grissom Elementary, where assistant principal Andi Eichhorn sees neighborhood kids who attend other schools regularly using the new schoolyard. Engaging and supporting the community ensures these schoolyards are places that help the entire community grow.