Four New Space to Grow Schoolyards This Year!

May 12, 2022

Children enjoying the Space to Grow schoolyard at Whistler Elementary School in West Pullman, which opened in 2021.

The Space to Grow partners are excited to announce that four more Space to Grow schoolyards — the final four in our planned first cohort of 34 schools! — are ready for construction:

Robert A Black Magnet (Calumet Heights)
Coles Language Academy (South Chicago)
Mays Academy (Englewood)
Piccolo School of Excellence (Humboldt Park)

The Space to Grow team engages with each school community—including students, teachers, parents and community members—to see what elements they most want to see in a new schoolyard. By participating in fun activities and surveys, the school community highlights their priorities and votes on the elements they want to see in their new Space to Grow schoolyard. 

The process is empowering for adults and kids alike. As Sharon Mason, a teacher at Mays Academy puts it, “many of our students in the Englewood area are exposed daily to trauma that stems not only from violence, but poverty, drug addiction, experiencing racism and a sense of loss of self. The process of involving students in the design gives them a sense of their own agency.” For example, the students at Robert A Black Magnet school helped the designers understand how important it was for them to have a safe place to play football, so their school’s design includes a new turf field. Students and community members have also ensured that the schoolyard designs honor existing elements of their schoolyards that have special significance, such as favorite trees or artwork.

The input from these meetings is given to the design team—which includes engineers and landscape architects—so they can create a schoolyard design that’s unique to each and every school. Pamela Self, the lead landscape architect for Piccolo’s schoolyard, loves the process because “it is so exciting to know that everything we included in the schoolyard design was voted on by the students and their families and neighbors — the people who will enjoy this space every day.”

For Principal Charlie McSpadden at Coles Language Academy, this new schoolyard, which  will replace “sinkholes, broken play equipment and cracked asphalt,” will be an amazing resource for the school, providing “a place where students can learn about ecosystems and gardens, release stress, actively play and exercise using safe equipment.” Not only that, but the schoolyard will also give the entire community around Coles a safe and beautiful park to enjoy.

Space to Grow is an innovative partnership led by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands to transform Chicago schoolyards into centers for outdoor learning, play and engagement with nature, while also addressing neighborhood flooding issues. Space to Grow is supported by capital funding and expertise from CPS, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Each schoolyard renovation gets a budget of $1.5 million. 

The Space to Grow partners are grateful to everyone who participated in helping design, plan and build these schoolyards despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

We are excited to see how students and community members use their schoolyards to gather, learn, play and care for natural resources.