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Chicago’s communities turning schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces

When the ribbon was cut on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, opening the new “green” schoolyard at Morrill Math & Science Elementary School in Chicago, it marked the culmination of a two-year-long effort for the Space to Grow initiative and the beginning of a brighter future for the school’s 800 students and the surrounding neighborhood.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony at Morrill Elementary and three more to follow in the weeks ahead represent the opening act for Space to Grow, an innovative partnership between two Chicago-based nonprofit organizations – WKKF grantees Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands – and three public agencies ¬– Chicago Public Schools, City of Chicago Department of Water Management and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.


Space to Grow has secured $51 million in funding by leveraging diverse expertise and funding streams, and has plans to rebuild an additional 30 schoolyards across Chicago in the next five years. “Space to Grow is a powerful example of what can be accomplished for our communities when multiple partners work together in concert,” says Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann.

Space to Grow has big plans for a simple, win-win-win idea: to engage communities in transforming crumbling asphalt schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces that benefit students and community members while improving the environment. The rebuilt schoolyards include spaces for physical activity, gardening, outdoor learning and community gatherings, as well as permeable surfaces and landscape features that absorb rainwater and reduce neighborhood flooding.

Hundreds of community and student volunteers came to Chicago’s Southwest Side to finish planting more than 8,000 plants and attend the ribbon-cutting. “It was great to hear people talking about the schoolyard as a hub of community revitalization,” says Healthy Schools Campaign President and CEO Rochelle Davis.

“We know that healthy students are better learners,” adds Davis, “so it’s imperative that we incorporate student health into all aspects of the school experience – and that literally starts with the school grounds.”

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