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Space to Grow is designed to bring about positive impacts for students’ health, including:

  • Increasing opportunities for physical activity before and after school
  • Providing engaging spaces for schools to implement new CPS policies that expand recess, PE and nutrition education
  • Boosting students’ social-emotional health through exposure to nature and a safe space for free play

This impact is visible in formal evaluation and in the words of principals, teachers, students and community members.

Benefits Extend Beyond the Classroom

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 fewer injuries, less teasing and bullying and less gang activity on the new schoolyards.

Pilot Study Shows Increase in Physical Activity Among Students

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. Notable findings of the study include:

  • Students are more active. Data collected from accelerometers used to measure students’ physical activity before and after the schoolyard redesign showed notable increases in moderate to vigorous physical activity during the week with statistically significant increases among boys (from 20.3 min to 49.6 min) and promising (though not statistically significant) trends among girls (from 22.8 min to 28.1 min).
  • Activity increased in all grade levels studied. The evaluation included three grade levels (first, fourth and seventh grades) and students in all three grades showed increased activity. Statistically significant increases were evident among the 1st graders (19.5 min to 27.8 min) and 7th graders (7.8 minutes to 27.9 minutes). Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity also increased among 4th graders from 31.7 min to 39.2 minutes.

This is encouraging information as it indicates that Space to Grow schoolyards are meeting the goal of boosting physical activity for students. Additional research is underway.

On-the-Ground Perspective

Teachers, principals and parents report that their new green schoolyards have brought about new opportunities for physical activity and naturally bolster social-emotional health through increased time for nature and play. Principals explain:

“This year we have a significant focus on being healthy and active … Our PE instructor will utilize all those fields and courts, and even the playground equipment will support PE instruction.”
–Principal Andrea Black, Schmid Elementary

“Since opening our new schoolyard last October, no matter the temperature or amount of snow, you can find people at our playground playing, moving and exercising. One morning after a sub-zero blizzard dumped a foot of snow in Chicago, closing the district’s schools, I noticed footprints on the basketball court. A teacher joked, ‘There is no off season.’ On nicer days you’ll find 20, 50, 100 people of all ages playing basketball, soccer, football, playing on the equipment, socializing and riding bikes.”
–Former Principal Mike Beyer, Morrill Elementary

Further Evaluation in Progress

Space to Grow is working with Loyola University and the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California to conduct a larger, longitudinal study to validate the initial findings and to investigate the links between green schoolyards and other outcomes including students’ behaviors, school attendance, teacher morale, frequency of schoolyard use and neighborhood trust and safety.

The evaluation team will focus on assessing changes in schoolyard utilization, impacts to student academic performance and well-being, changes to the school environment and post-transformation changes in community engagement and cohesion.

Stay posted for more as this research progresses.