The positive effects of a transformed schoolyard can be seen in the smiles of schoolchildren as they play on the playground equipment and turf fields. But we also wanted to measure the improvement in these schoolyards—and how they were benefitting the students and the community.
For that, we partnered with researchers at Loyola University of Chicago and the University of California’s Nutrition Policy Institute to assess the usage and benefit of Space to Grow schoolyards at Morrill, Grissom and Cather elementary schools.
Space to Grow is transforming Chicago schoolyards into vibrant spaces that support kids, communities and the environment. The program is co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands. Capital funding and expertise comes from Chicago Public Schools, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Chicago Department of Water Management. Each Space to Grow schoolyard gets a $1.5 million transformation, and every space uses special surfaces and design elements—such as rain gardens and permeable pavers—to capture rainwater and help reduce neighborhood flooding during the heaviest of storms.
The research team found that schoolyards were highly used by students, teachers and community members. Observations and reports determined schoolyards to be a safe place for children to play and have positive social interactions and engage in physical activity.
The study also found schoolyards provide academic and behavioral benefits. Teachers reported using the new schoolyard as an extension of the classroom for a wide variety of lessons and activities. Students at Morrill and Grissom improved their standardized test scores in math and reading the year after their schoolyards were transformed. (Data was not available for Cather.) The survey also found fewer injuries, less teasing and bullying and less gang activity on the new schoolyards.
The study also found that schoolyards promote a more positive relationship between the schools and community. In many cases, community members have stepped up to care for schoolyards—including the gardens—during times when school is out of session. Community-level data showed a rise in home prices in all neighborhoods after the opening of the Space to Grow schoolyards.
We’re so excited the data backs up what we already know: Healthy students are better learners. We’re also thrilled that the Space to Grow schoolyards are positively benefiting the communities in which they’re built. We’re looking forward to building five more schoolyards this coming year!