Research Summary

Green schoolyard renovations in low‐income urban neighborhoods: Benefits to students, schools, and the surrounding community

Green schoolyards may be “particularly powerful drivers of health equity by promoting well‐being at the level of the individual, school, and community.”

American Journal of Community Psychology

This study was based on the understanding that green schoolyards may ease the negative effects of urbanization through increasing access to nature and its benefits. The study was also based on the understanding that green schoolyards in urban low-income communities may promote health equity. The specific aim of the study was to investigate whether redesigning schoolyards into natural community greenspaces would result in positive changes for children, youth, and adults living in low‐ income, urban neighborhoods.

The study was conducted in Chicago with two public elementary schools participating. Both schools enroll a high percentage of students of color from low‐income homes. Researchers used behavior mapping techniques and surveys at both schools before and after schoolyard renovations. The renovations included the installation of new or updated sports/play facilities and greening of the schoolyard. Green elements added to the schoolyards included community gardens, native plant landscaping, and other natural features. Behavior mapping is a direct observation method designed to systematically collect information about the activities of people in a particular area during specified times. Observations for this study were conducted by trained observers throughout the day on school days (i.e., before school, during recess, during PE, after school) and on mornings/afternoons on weekends. Data collected during the observations focused on schoolyard utilization, physical activity, and social interactions. Surveys completed by caregivers, teachers, and community members focused on (1) utilization and use of the schoolyard; (2) safety and neighborhood climate; and (3) social cohesion.

Behavior mapping results showed that more individuals (mostly youth) used the schoolyards outside of school time post-renovation as compared to pre-renovation. There was also an increase in physical activity (PA) and prosocial interactions, with some variations between the schools. While there was increased PA at both schools, only one school showed higher levels of moderate‐to‐vigorous PA. The social interaction data revealed proportionally fewer social interactions from before to after the renovations; yet there was a lower proportion of negative social interactions, and a greater proportion of positive interactions. Community members and teachers responding to the survey reported increased use of the schoolyards for exercise, leisure activities, and as an extension of the classroom. Survey results also indicated a decrease in bullying and gang activity and improvements in the perception of schoolyard safety and school–community relationships.

These findings indicate that green schoolyards can provide a safe space for children and adults to engage in social, outdoor activities and thus benefit from the increased access to nature. These benefits may promote health equity for people living in urban low-income communities.