Our Model

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Space to Grow uses a unique model to bring green schoolyards to Chicago neighborhoods.


Unique Funding Structure and Collaboration

At the heart of Space to Grow is a unique partnership that generates positive results for partners with a diverse set of goals. The partnership is co-managed by two organizations focused on different priorities: Openlands focuses on connecting people to nature where they live and Healthy Schools Campaign works to make schools healthier places for children to learn and thrive.

The model brings together capital funds, expertise and leadership from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Space to Grow maximizes financial investment from these two water agencies by designing schoolyards with green infrastructure features that absorb large amounts of water.

Space to Grow also engages nonprofit and other on-the-ground partners to help support wellness goals at each schoolyard. For more about this diverse group, see Partners.


Inclusive and Engaging Planning Process

Space to Grow engages the entire school community to create a schoolyard that meets many needs and serves as a source of neighborhood pride. Each Space to Grow school community takes part in a planning process during which school staff, students, parents and other community members provide a vision for their schoolyard. The planning committee is intentional about how, when, where and with whom they hold meetings to facilitate open and engaged participation.

Based on the results of this process, the schoolyards are designed and constructed to meet the unique needs and visions of each community. All Space to Grow schoolyards remain open to the community after school and on the weekends.


Ongoing Support

After each Space to Grow schoolyard is completed, Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands support the school in fully integrating their schoolyard into the school culture and learning experience. This includes community events and workshops, as well as professional development for teachers and school staff. Professional development focuses on how and why to teach outdoors, plus green infrastructure workshops where participants learn how to use the new features as teaching tools. Teachers are also invited to participate in Fit to Learn, a professional development program that makes healthy habits part of how kids learn, and special Fit to Learn booster sessions throughout the year that are customized for Space to Grow schools.

The partners also support the development of wellness teams to ensure the new schoolyard is incorporated into physical education and recess plans; garden teams to take ownership of the various gardens; and the development of parent leadership at the schools.

This comprehensive approach helps integrate the schoolyard into school life in ways that can survive changes in leadership or staffing.