On June 30, community members came out to Schmid Elementary school to play and to tend the gardens in their Space to Grow schoolyard. Schmid is nestled in a close-knit neighborhood between the Bishop Ford expressway and Chicago State University on Chicago’s far south side, and was one of the first schools to receive a Space to Grow schoolyard in 2014.
Space to Grow is an innovative partnership led by HSC and Openlands to transform Chicago schoolyards into centers for outdoor learning, play and engagement with nature, while also addressing neighborhood flooding issues. Schmid received a $1.5 million schoolyard transformation through the Space to Grow program, which is supported by capital funding and expertise from Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Space to Grow schoolyards are beautiful community spaces that provide wonderful amenities like play equipment, sports fields and gardens, but also capture hundreds of thousands of gallons of rainwater and help address neighborhood flooding issues.
About 30 people—three adults and the rest kids from age 4 to 15—attended the event and helped to pull weeds and spread mulch in the school’s garden. Engaging the community in upkeep efforts is essential to the Space to Grow model. That engagement means community members feel ownership of the space. Engaging and supporting the community ensures these schoolyards are places that help the entire community grow.
Grove Heights Baptist Church, which is located across the street from the school, has also been involved in many of the Space to Grow events at Schmid. Margaret Thornton, a community member and retired teacher, says the new schoolyard has really brought the community together. “This new outdoor environment has made an overall difference in the whole school environment,” she says. “Beautifying the space has made everyone proud of the school.”
And this engagement doesn’t stop just because school is out for the summer. The schoolyards are designed to be used by the school community and the neighborhood community—both during the school year and during the summer.