At its heart, Space to Grow is an investment in communities. Schoolyards are designed through an inclusive process with students and community members. This process is designed to ensure the schoolyards truly meet community needs, and to build a sense of investment and belonging around the schoolyards.
When the first six Space to Grow schoolyards were completed, school leaders noted a positive impact at these schools and in their communities almost immediately. For example:
- Focus groups conducted by the Children & Nature Network revealed that discipline and behavior issues had decreased after the schoolyard transformations and that children became eager to go outside regardless of the weather conditions.
- Community members at all the schools are using the schoolyards for activities such as walking and jogging on the track, sitting on benches to drink coffee or taking young children to play after school hours.
- Members of the surrounding communities have expressed higher interest in attending schools with Space to Grow schoolyards.
Mike Beyer, former principal of Morrill School, put it this way:
“It changes the climate and culture of the neighborhood … Having a common space like this brings us back to the day when there was a community center where everyone interacted. I go walk around the field, and I get choked up … the roughest kids in the neighborhood all walk by and call out to me, and say thanks for doing this. It’s literally affecting thousands of people.”
Benefits Extend Beyond the Schoolyard
Researchers at Loyola University of Chicago and the University of California’s Nutrition Policy Institute assessed the usage and benefit of Space to Grow schoolyards at Morrill, Grissom and Cather elementary schools and 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.
Pilot Study Shows Increase in Community Social Cohesion
The Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) conducted a small, longitudinal pilot study to measure the impact of the Space to Grow schoolyard redesign on students’ physical activity and the community’s social cohesion. Two schools, Morrill Elementary in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood and Grissom Elementary in the Hegewisch neighborhood, participated in the study.
With regard to the community’s social cohesion, the study found that community response is positive. Notable trends in the community member survey data suggest community members felt more positive about their community’s social cohesion and the number of safe places for kids to play and be active in their neighborhood.