Celebrating collaboration at the heart of Space to Grow

Published on: 
26 Apr 2016
Rochelle Davis and Jerry Adelmann

The 2016 Best of Green Schools Awards, presented at the Green Schools Conference and Expo earlier this month, recognize the people, schools, campuses and organizations that create healthy, sustainable and efficient learning environments and inspiring educational experiences. Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of the Healthy Schools Campaign, and Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands, spoke about their collective efforts to transform the urban schoolyard through Space to Grow, this year’s winning initiative for the Collaboration category. 

The Best of Green Schools Award for Collaboration is one of the most meaningful awards we could hope for Space to Grow to achieve, because collaboration has been such a powerful factor in its success. We’re honored to be recognized with this award and thrilled to be in the company of the other impressive winners. 

Space to Grow transforms Chicago schoolyards into green spaces that provide students and their families and neighbors with a place to play, learn, garden and enjoy being outside. These schoolyards also help reduce flooding in the neighborhood through unique materials and designs that capture hundreds of thousands of gallons of rainwater and melting snow at each school. 

Space to Grow is made possible through a collaboration between the Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands and with the financial support and expertise of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the Chicago Department of Water Management and Chicago Public Schools. 

This collaboration allows us to bring together diverse groups of people and leaders across different industries to accomplish goals that benefit our entire city. It’s an example of a whole that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. 

Since its launch in 2014, Space to Grow’s three public agency partners have committed $51 million to transform 34 Chicago schoolyards by 2019; so far, six have been built and are open to students and their communities, and many more are under way. Just as important, Space to Grow is beginning to redefine the way we think about the potential of the schoolyards in our city. 

Each schoolyard is designed with several goals in mind, which reflect the diverse aims of the collaborators: 

  • Boosting physical activity and wellness. Schoolyards provide healthy, engaging places for students to be physically active before, during and after school. 
  • Improving stormwater management and reducing neighborhood flooding. Special materials, surfaces and techniques—from rain gardens to permeable play surfaces—capture significant amounts of rain during the heaviest of storms. 
  • Supporting learning. Outdoor classrooms, native trees and plants, vegetable gardens and even the stormwater capture techniques support opportunities for learning and exploration. 
  • Engaging communities with local schools. The schoolyard transformation process engages students, parents and community members in developing the design and later in celebrations, gardening and more. Plus, schoolyards are open to the public and provide a welcoming space for physical activity and connection with nature. 

We recently released the report Green Schoolyards: A Growing Movement Supporting Health, Education and Connection with Nature, based on the findings of the 2015 National Green Schoolyards Summit. This report documents the journeys and lessons of green schoolyard programs across the country, including Space to Grow. We’re encouraged by these stories and proud to be part of this movement. We are confident that these schoolyards and the innovative partnerships and new ideas that are a hallmark of all these models will significantly benefit our children, communities and environment. 

We’re so honored for Space to Grow to be recognized with this award, and see it as a testament to the power of working together. The recognition reinforces the notion that such innovative partnerships are key to a future in which all students have access to the benefits of green schoolyards.