Atlanta Public Schools and Partners Announce Initiative to Transform Schoolyards
Atlanta Public Schools (APS), the City of Atlanta, and nonprofit partners KABOOM!, the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), and Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced a bold vision to ensure every APS school has a Community School Park that supports the healthy development, success and well-being of Atlanta’s kids and communities. Through the Atlanta Community School Parks Initiative, partners will work with kids and communities to transform schoolyards into quality playspaces and outdoor learning environments that support kids’ mental and physical health and academic achievement.
Research confirms that children who have regular opportunities to play and learn outdoors have better academic outcomes, experience less stress and anxiety, can cope better with adversity, and have stronger self-esteem, social skills, focus, self-regulation, and cognitive functioning. However, far too many kids lack sufficient access to healthy, outdoor places to play and learn, if they exist at all. This is especially true in communities of color where access to nature’s benefits could help address the impact of trauma and systemic barriers that lead to inequities in academic and community health outcomes. Data collected over the last decade has demonstrated a persistent disparity in investment in civic infrastructure that supports kids’ mental, physical, and emotional development.
“Atlanta’s schoolyards and parks are packed with the potential to address physical, mental, and educational needs as Whole Child Interventions, as well as provide for the recreational needs for the community use of school facilities outside of school hours,” said Dr. Lisa Herring, Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. “School grounds are specifically designed for children and when we invest in and create these spaces, it not only benefits the school community, it also benefits the surrounding neighborhood and the environment.”
The Community School Parks Initiative will provide equitable access to kid-designed playspaces, outdoor learning environments, and healthy, green oases that spark joy and a sense of belonging for kids and communities both during and after school. The partners will work closely with communities to seek their input to determine specific needs and desires, such as locally grown fresh food, art, and cultural opportunities. Leveraging local data and assessment tools, partners will ensure that investments are prioritized in communities with the greatest need.
This commitment is announced on the heels of APS’ 150th anniversary and in support of Mayor Andre Dickens’ declaration of 2023 as the Year of the Youth to highlight the urgency of our commitment to kids as leaders, equipping them for success. Together, partners will work to achieve transformative impact for kids through the Community School Parks Initiative.
“Coming together with Atlanta Public Schools and our nonprofit partners for this innovative project shows a collective commitment to investing in youth in new ways that will support their academic success and set them on a path filled with opportunities,” said Mayor Andre Dickens.
Starting in 2022, partners in the Community School Parks Initiative brought together their collective vision and expertise in engaging communities to create co-defined solutions and outcomes for the health and well-being of kids. The Community School Parks Initiative builds on the success of the Atlanta Community Schoolyards pilot program, a collaboration of APS, Trust for Public Land, Park Pride, and Urban Land Institute-Atlanta, which will create 10 new schoolyards by the end of 2023. The Atlanta Community Schoolyards pilot is part of TPL’s broader Community Schoolyards™ initiative that aims to open community schoolyards in 20 underserved school districts over the next five years.
“Transforming schoolyards is a cost-effective, multi-benefit solution for improving health, learning, and resiliency for students and underserved communities,” said George Dusenbury, Georgia State Director for Trust for Public Land. “Too many communities, particularly communities of color, lack access to high quality outdoor space, and too many school children lack an engaging space for outdoor learning. We are excited to work with so many committed partners to address this inequality. Parks are essential for the mental and physical well-being of Georgians, and the creation of community schoolyards are a key part of our work to close the equity gap.”
The Community School Parks Initiative also builds on KABOOM!’s partnership with APS, building more than 16 playgrounds across Atlanta Public Schools over the past 25 years. KABOOM! joined the cohort to support scaling the Community Schoolyards pilot program through their 25 in 5 Initiative to End Playspace Inequity. Through 25 in 5, KABOOM! is partnering across sectors to accelerate their mission, ending playspace inequity at the scale it exists in 25 places in the next five years. This is just the beginning of addressing a solvable problem, creating a roadmap to achieve playspace equity across the country.
“KABOOM! has been working in Atlanta for decades, yet we recognize that in order to address the urgent challenges that kids are facing, we need to show up differently, aligning our work under the 25 in 5 Initiative to collaborate across sectors for greater progress to support our kids,” said Lysa Ratliff, CEO of KABOOM!. “This is mission critical work and innovative partnerships are necessary to move this work forward. We are committed to the Community School Parks Initiative to create spaces for Atlanta’s young people to reach their greatest potential and empower them to use their voices and equip them as the future leaders we will count on as changemakers.”
To kick off this work, Children & Nature Network has secured $1 million which will be matched by public capital funds to be raised for refurbishing six school parks. Once this phase is completed, more than 5,000 students and surrounding neighborhood children will have greater access to natural spaces and high-quality playgrounds, which will support the desired initiative goals of improving mental and physical health outcomes and academic performance and providing a higher quality of life for residents in the surrounding neighborhood.
“This public-private partnership is an example of the power of collaboration across sectors to improve outcomes for kids and communities, making it possible for all children in Atlanta to learn, play and grow in quality nature-filled Community School Parks,” said Sarah Milligan-Toffler, President and CEO of the Children & Nature Network.
Our ultimate goal is to ensure equitable outcomes for all kids in Atlanta, providing Community School Parks as an innovative solution that connects classroom learning to the numerous benefits of nature. In the next phase of work, more than 20 additional schoolyard sites have been identified as in need of immediate investment that will address barriers to easy access to parks and greenspaces. Overall, the initiative will impact generations of kids by providing healthy, outdoor green spaces proven to support academic success and healthy physical and mental development.