OUSD to Unveil District’s Remarkable New Green Schoolyard in Celebration of Earth Day; News Conference Scheduled for Tuesday, April 20
Oakland, CA – Oakland Unified School District is proud to unveil its remarkable new living schoolyard at the Cesar Chavez Education Center in the Fruitvale District, the first in the District. The newly transformed living schoolyard removed 13,000 square feet of asphalt, and replaced it with natural play areas, a mini-grass field, 58 new trees to cool the playground and provide shade and seating areas for students, a bioswale designed to channel stormwater runoff and remove debris and pollution before emptying into the bay, and a new outdoor classroom complete with an orchard and planter boxes for teaching.
“We are excited to celebrate the new green schoolyard at the Cesar Chavez campus and how it will improve the educational, environmental, and health outcomes for the nearly 600 students who attend the co-located International Community School and Think College Now,” said OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “The Cesar Chavez campus with its beautiful natural play structure and its grass field and trees will change the way our students view their world, and give them a deeper appreciation for the natural environment around them.”
“We are thrilled to celebrate the opening of the first living schoolyard at the Cesar Chavez Education Center. This new center advances Oakland’s goals of climate resiliency, environmental justice, and gives our students direct access to nature and all of its benefits,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Taking our children out of the asphalt and into a vibrant nature-based environment is good for their health, education, and will help them develop lifelong environmental stewardship.”
In 2017, the district partnered with The Trust for Public Land and Green Schoolyards America to launch a Living Schoolyards Initiative in Oakland to transform asphalt covered playgrounds into vibrant nature-based schoolyards. The $1,500,00.00 living schoolyard project at Cesar Chavez is one of the first fully built projects to demonstrate OUSD’s vision to transform asphalt-covered school grounds into spaces that promote children’s health and well-being, while creating green and ecologically rich community parks that connect children and their neighborhoods to the natural world outside their classroom door.
In 2019, the OUSD Board of Education unanimously approved a first-in-the-state policy endorsing the development of green schoolyards. “School grounds will have living schoolyards that support 21st-century education; promote children’s health, well-being and joy; and function as ecologically rich community schools that connect children and their neighborhoods to the natural world right outside their classroom door, every day,” the policy states.
“I commend Oakland Unified for being the first school district in California to adopt a green schoolyard policy to ensure that students, teachers and staff have healthy, and quality facilities that not only benefit the school but the surrounding community and environment,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, California State Director with The Trust for Public Land. “I hope other school districts are inspired by and replicate what Oakland is doing to improve not only educational outcomes but the well-being of children too,” added Rodriguez.
The planning of the living schoolyard at Cesar Chavez began three years ago by engaging the entire school community to take part in the design process. “Not only did we build a green schoolyard but we helped build a stronger school community by inviting staff, families, students and the surrounding community to dream about what a green schoolyard means to them,” said Alejandra Chiesa, Bay Area Program Director with The Trust for Public Land. “Engaging the school community was not just fun, it was also educational. We also used the design process to talk to students about what environmental stewardship and climate mean to them and how we can redesign their playground to be both a place for fun and one that improves the environment,” added Chiesa.
“Prior to the renovation if you were to walk by campus, you would essentially see a huge, long slab of asphalt,” said Karen Schreiner, principal of Think College Now Elementary School. “There was no shade. There was no place for kids to rest, and it would get super-hot.”
In the fall of 2019, students at International Community School, a dual-language elementary school, recorded surface temperatures that ranged from 109 degrees on the asphalt covered playground to 115 degrees on the plastic slide. A lack of trees and vegetation can help lead to extreme heat and it can worsen air pollution and exacerbate flooding. As climate change progresses, all three problems—which are interconnected in complex ways—are expected to become more severe.
“We have pretty high levels of asthma,” said Eleanor Alderman, principal of International Community School, which has 277 students, 90 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunch. “Being able to have clean air and natural play areas will not only benefit the students but the whole community around our campus.”
OUSD’s Acting Facilities Director, Kenya Chatman is pleased to see the genesis of this effort, “The collaboration with people from the community to do these projects and push forward the work is the best way to offer this kind of benefit, because the community is so deeply invested. The District cannot do it alone and we depend on our partners, funders and most importantly, school communities to help us care for our school environments.”
The construction of the new living schoolyard at Cesar Chavez was funded by an Urban Greening Grant from the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Coastal Conservancy, and private donations.
On April 14, the California Natural Resources Agency announced the award of a $1.1 million grant to fund a similar renovation at Bridges Academy. Including this recent award, The Trust for Public Land has raised more than $5 million in public grants from the California Coastal Conservancy and Natural Resources Agency and private philanthropy from the Hellman Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, The Joseph & Vera Long Foundation, Youth Outside, Union Bank, and other funders and supporters including The Trust for Public Land’s California Advisory Board, to transform other schools in the district. Markham Elementary, Melrose Leadership Academy, and Bridges Academy are the next Living Schoolyards projects that will be delivered as part of this partnership which focuses on increasing equity across OUSD by prioritizing schools that serve low-income neighborhoods.
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